The Cost of Teamwork

A widely-reported RAND study that concluded joint fighter programs—including the F-35—never deliver promised joint-use savings was based on cost data now more than three years old. RAND used selective acquisition report numbers derived in 2010 by the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation shop. However, the F-35 System Program Office already is touting 53-year F-35 life cycle costs of $857 billion—down 22 percent from the CAPE’s infamous $1.1 trillion estimate in 2010. The Daily Report asked RAND project leader Mark Lorell why there was a two-year delay in releasing the study, and whether the new numbers would affect its conclusions. “I saw some reports out in the press that there was some sort of devious plot implied behind this,” he answered, but “unfortunately, the normal process” of getting reviewer comments “takes that long at RAND.” Lorell argued the report’s still valid, saying the F-35 was measured against what a joint project would achieve “if everything went perfectly” to determine the most that could be saved. It was then measured against real-world single-service fighter acquisition and operating costs. “The bottom line,” he said, is that the schedule slips and rework that beset the program for its development period “would cancel out any savings” from joint use later on. That remains to be seen, however, as Pentagon and program officials report F-35 costs coming down fast. Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall has said operating and sustainment cost estimates will improve as real-world data comes in from operating squadrons.