F-35: Adding Years to Your Life

The F-35 performed well in 2015, but total program operating costs rose because the services extended the jet’s expected service life, according to annual Pentagon numbers released Thursday. In base year 2012 dollars, procurement costs on the F-35 program in 2015 were down $7.5 billion. Research, development, test, and evaluation expenses were unchanged since the previous year, and operating and support costs were down between two and four percent across all F-35 variants, the system program office announced. However, the services have reduced annual operating hours of the F-35 from 300 to 250, according to system program office chief Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan. The change extended the F-35 fleet’s operations by six years, to 2070, inflicting a net increase of $35 billion to the program’s then-year dollar cost. He told reporters he couldn’t say why the change, “which the program office has no control over,” was made. Nevertheless, it indicates the services have “good confidence” in the longevity of the jet. However, it also “masked” the actual decrease in O&S costs this year, making it seem like the F-35 got more expensive, he said. Bogdan urged reporters to “tell the real story” on the program. After a grilling on Capitol Hill this week, he said, “I have never seen a larger gap between reality and what people believe” about the F-35. Bogdan also said the figures for 2070 are “completely meaningless to me,” since any predictions of fuel and inflation costs even a year from now are pure fiction. “You will all be dead when that assumption plays out,” he told reporters.