Debate Continues over Cost, Schedule of Early F-35s

 - May 18, 2009, 6:05 AM

Although the Pentagon last month declared that it was increasing the early production tempo of the F-35, the decision to buy 30 aircraft next year does not actually change previous plans. Moreover, there is still no U.S. commitment to multi-year procurement (MYP) before 2015. Mindful of repeated criticism by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that concurrent development and production of the F-35 is a high-risk strategy, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said he was adopting “a cautious approach to ramping up production.” He also said he was “trying to ensure that the cost to our partners does not go up.” The nine international partners have been discussing a “consortium buy” to reduce the unit cost of their early F-35s. Unless they modify the current production plan, six of them will be buying 80 or more very expensive aircraft from the low-rate initial production (LRIP) batches, before they can benefit from the economies of scale that MYP offers. The unit cost of an F-35 at the optimum production rate is already around $90 million at current prices, depending on the variant. The LRIP aircraft are costing much more; the UK recently signed for its first two aircraft that are part of LRIP 3; the UK Ministry of Defence refused to reveal the price paid. A Lockheed Martin spokesman told AIN that the company was still trying to get the agreement of critical suppliers to a multi-year cost for LRIP batches five to seven, and that a consortium buy would be evaluated again later this year.