It’s Not a Trillion-Dollar F-35

The figure of $1.1 trillion as the operating and support costs of the F-35 strike fighter program is “not a good number,” said Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, who oversees the aircraft’s development, on Tuesday. The trillion-dollar figure that some F-35 opponents trumpet is “what it will cost in 2056,” said Bogdan during his address at an Aviation Week conference in Arlington, Va., on March 5. He challenged anyone to predict accurately what fuel will cost next year, let alone 43 years from now. The price “is in 2056 dollars,” and if adjusted back to today’s dollars, would be around $580 million, said Bogdan. “That’s still a lot of money,” he said. And, that’s the reason Bogdan said he is so dogged about making sure everyone on the program—both customers and the vendors, Lockheed Martin and engine supplier Pratt & Whitney—is thinking constantly about how to keep the fighter as inexpensive as possible. “One thing is for sure,” he said, “if you don’t start thinking about operation and support . . . now, it could be unaffordable” later. He noted, though, that there are some costs “I can’t control,” such as crew ratios, and how much training time is spent in the simulator versus actually flying an airplane. (See also Lies, Damn Lies, and the Trillion-Dollar F-35 from Air Force Magazine’s archives.)