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F-35 Delayed Again

Here’s a surprise, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the common operating platform for the Air Force, Navy, Marines, along with a host of foreign nations, has run headlong into further delays, stretching out the development time and adding costs to what is already the Pentagon’s most expensive program.

According to the most recent Pentagon plans, the military was to buy 2,456 F-35s for the Air Force, Navy and Marines at a cost of about $246 billion. The idea was to get some synergy going between the services on the new somewhat stealthy aircraft and achieve economies of scale to keep the price down on the aircraft. That last goal hasn’t worked out so well.

Since 2002, the F-35 program’s costs have risen by nearly $100 billion. Cost inflation is driven by delays in development, its now two years late, and some weight issues with the Marine’ vertical take off and landing version. According to the ever helpful analysts at the Congressional Research Service, best case scenario is the price tag for an F-35 now sits somewhere between $80 to $100 billion. Expect that price to go nowhere but up, especially now that another year’s delay has been added.

From Defense News’ John Reed:

“The Pentagon’s No. 2 official said this week that the jet’s development schedule would slip between 12 months and 13 months despite an aggressive restructuring of the program that was announced earlier this month.

“The development was originally projected to last an additional 30 months; we think with the additional test aircraft it will be closer to a delay of about 12 or 13 months, but I can’t give you the cost numbers,” The Australian newspaper quoted [Deputy Defense Secretary Bill] Lynn as saying during a speech at a shipyard in South Australia. He did not say if this would affect the delivery timeline for the JSF.

Under the Pentagon’s restructuring that was announced Feb. 1, Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered an additional test jet and $2.8 billion be put into the extended F-35 SDD, withheld more than $600 million in performance fees from Lockheed, cut planes from F-35 acquisition coffers and fired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. David Heinz, the Pentagon’s F-35 program manager.

The Defense Department is requesting $10.7 billion in its 2011 budget to continue development on the F-35 and purchase 43 of the planes.”

The Marines are supposed to begin taking delivery of their first batch of F35Bs in 2012. That’s probably not going to happen. I hope they have a good backup plan.

- Greg

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Vertigo February 18, 2010 at 2:19 pm

million probably, or someone really went crazy with gold plating on the aircraft :)

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@Earlydawn February 18, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Glad we cut the F-22 program at the knees for this marvelous taxpayer value.

@ Vertigo - You realize the idea behind the Marine Corps isn't land forces, right? It's combined arms expeditionary forces..

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Vertigo February 18, 2010 at 3:42 pm

You are right, the Marine Corps is not intended to be a land force, they are intended to be a combined arms expeditionary force…

I was just bypassing that too quickly, by immediatly stating that for the most part, marines will in fact be working on land, in order to be said expeditionary force…

And I believe, respectfully, since they are intended (these days, not when they were founded) to eventually expedite into a certain region, on land, they might have a bigger need for more close air support instead of having the fastest, most advanced fighter. Since those fighters, for air superiority, for disabling certain enemy structures, can just as easily be launched from ground bases by the air force, or from aircraft cariers from the navy. And I am pretty sure, the marines will never go into an area where those advanced fighters would be needed, without being in close range of either an air force base, or a navy aircraft carrier. But then again, I'm no expert and this is only my opinion.

V.

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Gabriel February 18, 2010 at 9:30 pm

Earlydawn,

How exactly is the JSF expeditionary? A two-bomb, $200 million aircraft, with unprecedented ground support requirements, that can't land on anything except a sanitized concrete runway or metal deck (if we assume that someday this aircraft will hover).

The legacy of Marine Corps aviation was built in the jungles of the South Pacific, cutting dirt runways out of banana plantations. Providing close air support to grunts who were defending Henderson field in Guadalcanal - the very field that they were taking off from.

In Korea TBM's landed day and night on strips cut from ice and snow in the Chosin reservoir, hauling out the dead and wounded.

That my friend is expeditionary Marine Corps Aviation. And the JSF does not have that DNA, it is far too expensive, too fragile, and too dependent on a massive support chain.

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Vertigo February 18, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Thanks, couldn't have said it any better!

V.

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Josh February 18, 2010 at 3:27 pm

The F-22 isn't capable of air-to-ground missions as of yet. It's strictly an air superiority fighter.

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MCQknight February 20, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Not true, it has internal bomb bays for JDAMS and SDB's. Also, the AIM-9X is being uprgarded to a dual-use air-to-air and air-to-ground weapon. The F-22 has already been qualified to carry bombs, and before long the AIM-9X might actually see use in Afghanistan as an air-to-ground weapon.

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Russian Beae February 18, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Why can the RU build em so cheap?

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Matt February 18, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Build what so cheap? Stealthy VTOL 6th-generation fighters? Or gorgeous Mig-29s that literally fall apart in the sky?

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Valcan February 18, 2010 at 9:39 pm

How many of those RU super jets can fly regularly or be produced in any good amount.

?

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john February 18, 2010 at 4:55 pm

Really we should set up the F22 to do a wide variety of missions, a2g really onlyy needs a targeting pod and some jdams for bombing runs. The cost per plane is more but the cost of developing the F35 varients will run more in the end. A navy version of the 22 wouldnt be hard to build and as for the marines, give them some A-10s and modernized helos, a vtol plane in modern days is not nearly as important, reasons being that in most places that we will fight they have airports ie runways priority number 1

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Vertigo February 18, 2010 at 2:23 pm

what i really do not understand, is why they could not just drop the f35 alltogether and just procure f22's? Yeah they cost more, but at least they are already operational, they are supposedly superior to the f35 and buying lots of them should drive the cost down.

Sure, the marines won't have their VTOL aircraft, but seriously, if they want close air support there are other planes out there, and if they need air superiority, call the air force, thats what they are there for!

V.

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TMB February 18, 2010 at 2:27 pm

The F-35's primary mission is to replace all those "other planes" that you mentioned as a strike platform. They're getting old and the services believe a single platform can replace them all. And the Marines are structured so they don't have to "call" on anybody except maybe the Navy.

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Jeff February 18, 2010 at 3:40 pm

The issue at that point is whether its worth replacing all those fighters with the F35. The Navy will end up with a jack of all trades, master of none. There will be a dramatic shift on reliance to mission payloads to do more than they otherwise do and away from the aircrafts actual capabilities. It'll need longer ranger, faster, more accurate missiles and bombs to accomplish its multi-role mission. Thus any real savings in having a common platform is likely lost to the cost of more sophisticated weapons.

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Vertigo February 18, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Noted

I was actually not thinking of the existing aircraft, but more of the specific (new) airplane models that can be used as a strike platform, tailor made for close air support. Like the super tucano from embraer. It is not as sexy as fancy fighter, but just like the A-10, it just gets the work done that needs to be done, without costing overly much.

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Gabriel February 18, 2010 at 9:18 pm

Certainly he means $100 million, but that is a fantasy prediction based on lots of assumptions and averaging thousands purchased without factoring in all the other costs.

The Air Force also always claimed the F-22 "could" cost $143 million, but when small Government Furnished items like the engines are factored in, the per unit cost never got below $190 million.

The JSF aircraft we are buying today are $200 million a copy. That doesn't account for all of the R&D, and support required. And of course it will require new unique hangars that are the equivalent of building 40,000 square foot SCIF's.

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Valcan February 18, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Ok for those of you who dont get it yet.

WE ARE NOT GOING TO BE BUILDING MORE F-22'S. Its not going to happen.

F-22 isnt carrier capable….thats what the marines and navy want.

Add to that a price tag of 120 million and the fact that we cant see em over seas because places like japan and great britan leak defense information like a drunk man urinates means you cant sell them overseas.

And if we cant give them there "awesome stealth fighter that really isnt so awesome." then well own them billions.

Oh yes keep this in mind.

F-22 120,000,000

ARLEIGHBURK DDG 800,000,000

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Valcan February 18, 2010 at 9:37 pm

The airforce needs a cheap airsuperiority fighter. F*&k stealth, We already know it can be broken by even 3rd world countries. So wtf does it matter.
The navy needs a airsuperiority fighter to guard F-18's on missions in the even of a High level war like one with china or iran.(BTW it dosent matter if iran cant build those fighters the chinese will be happy to supply anyone with arms)

Every fighter, bomber, helicopter etc these days is slathed in radar obsorbent paint. Has its paylaod and structural integrity lessend and its price increased 70% for stealth. Not to mention how much its delayed or the price it takes to maintaine it.

It might not count for much but in my opinion a dozen solid Excell at one thing fighter/bomber/attack aircraft are better than one uberawesomesauceomfgfighter/bomber/attack/recon/ew aircraft 5 yrs to late 200% over buget and still just off the mark stealth aircraft.

Maybe its time we tried investing just HALF of the money and time we have invested in stealth into EW.

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Valcan February 18, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Maybe the airforce and friends to take a hard look at what out of all there fleet does its job so well it can fight even there efforts to get rid of it.

Take a look at the A-10. Maybe its time we stop general perposing everything.

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Tad February 18, 2010 at 7:45 pm

What I love is how F35 proponents in the air force have said it will replace the A10. Ha ha ha, hilarious!

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Matt February 19, 2010 at 1:29 am

As I posted above (though the site seems to have eaten my post) flying your $100 billion spaceship down in the weeds in thrown-rock range is beyond stupid. That said, however, the F-35 might still be better than the A-10 in some respects. Unless it's danger close, would you rather have an F-35 with PGMs arrive on station in ten minutes, or an A-10 in 20?

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Politico February 19, 2010 at 1:54 pm

I think its hilarious there is so much drama over a supposed "5th Generation Fighter" when Eurofighter is bashing it as not 5th Generational and the only 5th generational American fighter is the F22.

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@E_L_P February 20, 2010 at 8:52 am

Lets see, the F-35 won't be able to stand up to high end threats. ( that is the job of the F-22) and it is too expensive per flying hour to use on useless dirt to kill a few hillbillys with AKs and RPGs. For the USAF at least, there is no justification for this aircraft.

For the Marines,… if it works, at least they have STOVL….. for the Navy fielding this aircraft along with the Super Hornet means that the carrier air wing will get shot down pretty easy passed 2020s because both aircraft are obsolete vs. the threat. When that happens, you have a sunk carrier.

Long ago, when the USN was asked what they wanted from the JSF it was; 2 engines, 2 seats, and 1000 mile radius. Two out of three for the Super Hornet and none for the JSF.

The Super Hornet Block II while lacking airframe performance has stunning avionics in the Block II variant (this kit was what was going to be in the Boeing JSF had it won the competition).

And the Super Hornet is about the safest carrier fighter to work in this environment. This includes the fact that the whole of the Hornet community (classic and Super) have had to put one engine back to idle or turn it off.

The USN has to pay for big expensive grey floaty things and Rocko and Moose in the ship building industry get their fief every year.

So for the Navy, they have no business case for the Just So Flawed either.

SInce the USAF has now predicted that they will be getting their F-35s for around $141M each, this causes other blowback. This in part is what cancelled the F-22.

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MCQknight February 20, 2010 at 3:12 pm

I love how the DoD started letting all of these F-35 problems come to light AFTER they convinced Congress to cancel the F-22.

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blackbull February 20, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Here it comes again, same song 43rd verse could get better but its gonna get worse. What a freaking joke to leave combat aircraft development to politicians.
Remember Robert MacNamara and his gang of socialist politicians and the universal airplane and infanrty rifle and etc, etc. ALL were failures, just like the ones the politicos are daydreaming about today.
Aircraft are specialized in their mission requirements.
Thats the way it is !! F15's F16's, Hornets, A10's are still probably the best mix of aircraft we have had in decades.
Maybe a updated version of the Bearcat or the Skyraider or Mustang would solve the ground support mission which is a lot of loiter and weapons mix.
Sometimes KISS is the best way to solve a problem without political poop.

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