F35 costs rising 7% to $406 billion and Navy funds Advanced Super Hornet Design

Total acquisition costs for Lockheed Martin F35 stealth fighter may rise about 7 percent to $406.5 billion, according to figures in the Selected Acquisition Report. That’s a reversal after several years of estimates that had declined to $379 billion recently from a previous high of $398.5 billion in early 2014.

The $27.5 billion increase is reflected in current “then-year” dollars that cover research, development, procurement and military construction. The separate roughly $1.1 trillion long-term operations and support estimate to keep the aircraft flying until 2070 increased by $35.3 billion.

The estimated increase in the F35s total procurement cost to $346.2 billion from $319.1 billion last year was blamed on adjustments to the jet’s production schedule. The U.S. Air Force reduced its maximum annual rate of aircraft purchases to 60 per year from 80, a move which extended the planned procurements by six additional years from fiscal 2038 to fiscal 2044.

The estimate for the overall average per-jet program acquisition cost in current dollars — the most complete measure of a weapon’s cost — increased to $164.6 million per jet from $154.3 million.

Costs to maintain and operate the F35s continue to rise as the F35s have maintenance problems and are currently only flyable about 50% of the time instead of the 80% goal.

LAKEHURST. CF-1 2-ship/4-panel JBD Testing (with F/A-18E) on 13 August 2011 with Lt Chris Tabert.

Advanced Super Hornet funded by the US Navy

The US Navy will spend $265 million to upgrade some F18 to a new Advanced super hornet design. The new super hornet design will have “advanced network architecture” and “advanced cockpit displays” on the inside, and conformal fuel tanks — adding 100 to 120 nautical miles to the plane’s range, and providing a stealthier radar profile — on the outside. The new design is not as stealthy as a Lockheed Martin F-35C. The Advanced super hornet will cost about $79 million compared to the F35C quoted price of $122 million.

The Advanced Super Hornet design will be ready 2019. Lockheed is expecting to reach initial operational capability for the F-35C in 2019. The Navy will be able to choose between F-35Cs or cheaper upgraded F/A-18s. The Navy could also choose to upgrade existing F/A-18 fleet, which currently number 545 aircraft at a cost of about $9 million each.