A battle is brewing between the multibillion-dollar aircraft programs for the F35 stealth fighter and the new long range strike bomber — and the defense companies, lobbyists, and Pentagon offices that back them.
Pentagon money will fund two of the most sophisticated and expensive planes ever built, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the new Long Range Strike-Bomber, or LRS-B. The bomber needs cash to get off the ground and the skittish F-35 camp already is worried the new kids will steal from the huge but finite pot.
The F-35’s price tag looms at $400 billion for thousands of jets to be bought over the next two decades. The 100 planned bombers are expected to cost between $80 billion and $111 billion. The last time the Air Force had such an ambitious plane-building plan, Ronald Reagan was president. But unlike then, defense spending is capped through 2021.
Pentagon leaders have been floating the idea of signing a contract with Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor, for more than 450 new F-35s over a three year-period beginning in 2018. Most of those planes would be for the Air Force. Between 2016 and 2020, the Air Force plans to spend more than $25 billion on at least 200 F-35s, according to Pentagon budget documents.
For the bomber, Air Force officials will not disclose the actual yearly budget of the plane, saying that would harm national security. But they have released an estimate that it will cost at least $23.5 billion to develop and at least $56 billion to buy 100 planes.
In 2015, the Air Force spent a total of $12 billion on new planes across the board. It is expected to need $22 billion in 2023 for the F-35, bomber, tanker and new planes for intelligence and other types of special missions.
“The KC-46 tanker is in a different category in the debate because the F-35 is useless without the tanker and the LRS-B … still needs tanking,” Harrison said.
The tanker program, valued at more than $40 billion, also is more stable because Boeing, not the taxpayer, must pay for any cost increases. The Air Force is eyeing 60 new tankers costing about $15 billion between 2017 and 2020. “That programs has got a lot more security,” Harrison said.
SOURCE – Defense One