US military costs is not just high salaries but bloated equipment costs

US General Milley tries to make the case that China matches the US military budget because US salaries are so much higher than China’s. China is catching up to US military technology.

The US military budget is bloated because of massive increase in procurement prices for each plane, submarine and other equipment. It is also rising because of increasing operating costs and maintenance costs for new gear that is tough to maintain. Tough to maintain stealth coating, other fragile parts and difficult software.

The main $650 billion budget does not include the budget for fighting wars in Syria, Afghanistan and other places. The US has been constantly fighting expensive wars since 2001. The US budget does not include the medical and VA costs for the military.

New F16 Viper about $35 million each

The F-16C/D had a unit cost of US$18.8 million in 1998. About 10 years ago, Taiwan were sold F-16 at an average price of 25 million per piece. In 2009, Chile purchased 18 F-16 aircraft from the Netherlands in a contract worth $270 million. Jordon in 2007 signed an agreement with Belgium for the sale of 14 F-16s worth $90 million. The F-16V (Viper) costs about US$35 million in 2017.

The V configuration support AESA [active electronically scanned array radar] on a block 50/52 type airplane. The F-16V gets AESA radar, an upgraded mission computer and architecture, and an improved “glass” (digital) cockpit.

The United States could consider “new build” F-16s or F/A-18E/F Super Hornets as a lower-cost alternative to JSF. Not all, however, see the F-16V as the solution. “This is two and half tons heavier at empty weight than the F-16A model [of 1975],” said Pierre Sprey, the former Pentagon analyst who helped create the F-16 by arguing for a lightweight fighter. Sprey would prefer a stripped, lightweight, single-mission air-to-air version of the F-16 powered by the 32,000-pound thrust afterburning General Electric F110-GE-132 turbofan that is used on the current F-16E/F block 60 for the United Arab Emirates. Sprey is a longtime critic of multi-role warplanes and of JSF.

This seems to show that a fighter jet alternative could be had for 4-5 times lower cost. It is not just the procurement cost but the operating costs. Upgraded F16 or F18 would have no stealth or far less stealth but the rise of better anti-stealth technology is removing the importance of stealth.

F35 costs

There is a 100 page analysis of F35 costs.

In a briefing delivered to reporters on June 9, 2014, F-35 developer Lockheed still advertised the cost of airplanes sans engines. Highly respected Aviation Week reported on July 22 that taxpayers put up $98 million for each F-35A in 2013. In reality, the US actually paid $188 million. A single Air Force F-35A costs a whopping $148 million. One Marine Corps F-35B costs an unbelievable $251 million. A lone Navy F-35C costs a mind-boggling $337 million.

Some of these numbers are for the airframe only. In other cases, you get a “flyaway” cost. But in fact, those airplanes are incapable of operative flight. They lack the specialized tools, simulators, logistics computers—and much, much more—to make the airplane useable. They even lack the fuel to fly away.

F18 super hornet block III

The Block III Super Hornet aircraft incorporates a host of new capabilities ranging from an upgraded 9000-hour airframe, new range-extending conformal fuel tanks (~120 nautical mile boost in mission radius), radar cross-section improvements, enhanced satellite communications, to a new advanced cockpit display system. But the two most significant developments are the addition of the Distributed Targeting Processor-Networked (DTP-N) computer—which exponentially increases the Super Hornet’s processing power—and the high-speed, high-bandwidth, high-throughput anti-jam Internet Protocol-based Tactical Targeting Network Technology (TTNT) datalink.

When the power of the DTP-N and TTNT are combined with the IRST Block II sensor, the resulting capability allows for a pair of Block III Super Hornets to engage enemy stealth aircraft from well beyond visual range—far beyond the range of the jets’ Raytheon AN/APG-79 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.

The new IRST (Boeing/Lockheed Martin Infrared Search and Track) operates in the long wave infrared band, which allows the sensor to passively detect and track targets well beyond the range of the APG-79 radar.

The IRST—infrared search and track block II pod gives long range counter-stealth targeting technology.

F18 super hornet block III (in the $70-90 million range) could be half of the cost of the F35C.

The 12 Columbia-class submarines will replace the existing 14 Ohio-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines conducting nuclear deterrence patrols in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The first Columbia class submarine will cost $14.5 billion, with $5.1 billion in one-time research and development costs and $8.8 billion to build the first submarine. The Navy currently projects the average cost of all twelve submarine at $7.2 billion, well under the $8 billion cap, with the possibility that the cost could go below $7 billion.

The Ohio nuclear submarines cost $2 billion each in the late 1990s. The inflation-adjusted price is about $2.9 billion. The Columbia submarines will be over 2.5 times the cost of the inflation-adjusted price of the Ohio.

The Ohio class submarines will start aging out in 2027, making their replacement a fairly urgent matter.

The Columbia-class submarines will be the same length but a foot wider than the Ohio-class, making them slightly larger by volume with a displacement of 20,815 tons underwater. Each submarine will have sixteen missile tubes for sixteen missiles, recycling Trident D-5s from the Ohios. The nuclear reactor will last the lifetime of the boat, avoiding costly and time-consuming reactor overhauls decades down the line. The Columbia class will also feature an electric drive system that promises to be quieter than the mechanical system in place on the Ohio boats. The first Columbia will enter service in 2029 and the last in 2042.