JSF Price Tag Jumps to $135 Million

That’s according to DOD’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) office. Total JSF program cost is now estimated at $329 billion for a 2,443 aircraft buy, up from the original 2001 baseline estimate of $197 billion for 2,852 fighters (all figures are in then year dollars). The jump in the per unit price triggers a Nunn-McCurdy “critical breach,” requiring a “recertification” from Defense Secretary Robert Gates that the fighter is vital to national security; which, of course will happen.

So how does JSF now compare on price to the recently cancelled F-22? The F-22 cost about $360 million per copy. The aircraft that looks more appealing as JSF costs climb is the F/A-18E/F at around $90 million a copy. Pressure is building from lawmakers on the Hill for the Navy and Marines to buy more Hornets as the current fleet gets older and the arrival date for the JSF continues to slip.

— Greg

  • MPY

    Oh my god, scrap the entire thing already!

  • Dmitry

    It is necessary to limit excess profits of military suppliers

  • czech_6

    wow, i better pick up some shares in Lockheed Martin before it’s too late.

  • Vertigo

    I’m going to stick with my previous statements that, the F35 needs to be put out of its misery. The plant for F22’s has to be reopened, which should only supply the airforce with the latest and greatest. The navy takes the super hornets in full production, the marines and the army get a bunchload of LAAR aircraft (like the super tucano from embraer).

    Now everyone has something to play with, all matching solid mission statements: air force = air superiority and bombing, marines = first strike and COIN capabilities, navy = power projection and the army = command and control of the terrain. There is no need for every single branch in the military to all have the latest and greatest airplane, all have the latest and greatest gadgets. Thats where the branches are supposed to support each other.


    • Actually, I think the Marine Aviation is better characterized as the close-air support masters, not first strike. They make serious compromises to make those planes assault carrier-compatible, even more so then Navy. If you’re talking strictly aviation comparisons, first strike is probably more Navy then anything else. Air Force is volume and tempo and the most well-rounded and capable of the three, but they’re obviously limited by their capability to base their machines close to theatre.

    • Jay

      Opening the F-22 line is fine if the Air Force is unwilling to partake in tactical CAS missions. The Bones and Buffs may take to that mission, but the B-2 and the F-22 won’t. Nine years of conflict and the F-22 hasn’t dropped a single round. The Air Force powers that be can’t allow the Navy and Marines to take over the tactical CAS role or they’ll lose precious funding.

  • Robert

    Ridiculous. Thanks goodness that F22 line hasn’t initiated the shutdown yet.

    Let’s buy A/A & A/G Raptor instead then. $135 million per F35; that’s outright FUBR.

    In comparison, Su30MKI is rumored to cost just $45 million each.

    • How are you going to land an F-22 on a Marine carrier? Just curious.

  • John

    We need to put an end to the defense contractor corporate welfare. Lockheed is RAPING the taxpayers. They should be barred from ever bidding on defense programs again.

    Perhaps we should just start importing Russian fighters.

    • maximilliangc

      Make sense, buy the airframes, use US made avionics and engines.
      Have them assembled by anyone with a conscience, specifically
      other than Lockmart & Bore-ing.

  • Dan

    Actual costs of the F-22 are now down to about $110M per copy–all R&D costs are sunk and the AF only pays for actual hardware. Better jet than F-35 for less dollars. But the Congress is too busy passing social reform to notice the disparity.

    • STemplar

      Yes, but the 135 million price for the F35 factors in R&D over the life of the total program including the numbers and R&D. So F22s are about 2 to 3 x as expensive as F35s.

  • jbierling

    135 vs 360. But how much per F-22 if we were building 2400+ of them?

    • Armchair Warlord

      Estimates on unit cost for new F-22s are at 180 – that’s just unit flyaway cost. An F-35 is probably going to cost something like three-quarters what an F-22 would in an infinite production rundown because it’s three-quarters the fifth-generation fighter of an F-22. Plus lower maintenance costs (which are insane on F-22s) and the Air Force is getting a pretty good deal.

  • Pete

    Lets see what happens when the Russian T-50 or what ever ends up being call cost one third and every third world country have a couple of them. So much for exclusivity.

  • This is quite the disaster. I hope that common sense will prevail and the Pentagon will up the F-22 order, but this puts the Navy and Marines in quite a bind.

  • Dean

    LIke I’ve said before it’s the insistence of a STOVL version of the JSF that has doomed this aircraft from the start. They were naive to think they could build one plane to satisfy everyone. Never been done before and never will. They do it because they think commonality will save money but in the end you pay alot more for something that gives everyone a less capable platform. They will never learn….

    • Why

      Agree completely. I also go further though – STOVL needs to die a much overdue death, at least for Marine Air. It will bankrupt Marine Air.

  • SMSgy Mac

    1. DoD contracts of this sort are ‘cost plus’ — meaning the gov’t recognizes the risk in developing a new capability and technologies and the uncertainties it brings. The DoD contractors’ profits are of a generally lower percentage than in the commercial world. Nearly all of contractor profit is made in award fees which vary by how well they meet objectives laid down by the Customer. in my experience, if the contractor gets less than 95% of the award fee twice in a row, people lose their jobs -margins are that ‘thin’. As a result, DoD prime contractors have tended to attract investors that are willing to accept lower profits and dividends that are also more consistent and steady.
    2. Again, It would be nice if some ‘journalist’ (HINT, HINT)would venture to enquire as to what % of the cost increases are due to programmatic changes: a) stretching the development and b) parsing the LRIP manufacturing programs, c) reducing all that fearsome ‘concurrency’ that everyone was wringing their hands over (last year’s fashionable anti JSF theme).
    3. Let’s buy more older A/C? Yeah, just what we need: more targets.
    People! Close your mouth when you breathe!

  • Blight

    Has anyone calculated out the per unit cost once you subtract out R&D expenditure?

  • Sean

    We shouldn’t even be using STOVL fighters anymore. They are way to prone to IR missiles and hardly used at all in conflicts until the entire enemy SAM systems are down. Station a squadron of Hornets on a CBG. They and their Navy comrades will supply the CAS for the grunts. And tell the Brits to pull the finger out and put 2 cats on their new CVs. This isn’t rocket science people ;)

  • STemplar

    There will be a reduced buy to save costs. That was part of the plan I’d wager. I remember reading a good piece on that very issue. Goes something like this. The F35 was envisioned to replace the F16, F15, F18, A10, and F117. Well we retired the F117s anyway, the A10s are going through a SLEP through almost the total buy of the F35 now, the F15Es are being kept. The numbers of F16s envisioned to be replaced were on a 1 to 10 basis, although people always admitted the F35 was going to be far more capable and there need not be a 1 to 1 replacement of F16s. The F15Es and A10s are being kept, so there doesn’t need to be as many F35s purchased. Factor in the notion that for certain missions, like air sovereignty in North America, a latest version advanced block F16 similar to what is being peddled to India would be more than up to the task.

    There will be a reduced buy I would think.

  • STemplar

    Sorry, previous post meant to say the F16s were to be replaced on a 1 to 1 basis in the USAF version, not 1 to 10.

  • roland

    Gees the price is on the roof already. Maybe we just settle for T-50. Maybe its 10 times cheaper. I heard the russians want a contact with us.

  • Blight

    Even if you reduced the buy to zero you’d still be paying dev costs, which would in turn bring the per unit cost to astronomical levels. Once you’re in the quicksand there’s no easy way out.

    At this point we might as well bump up the order and slap down penalties for additional cost over-runs. Or perhaps Lockheed ought to go on the PR offensive and give us an explanation of how DoD procurement works; and why the cost is spiraling faster than government spending.

    • STemplar

      It lowers the overall price tag though. It was done with the F22, it will be done with the F35. For pretty much the same reason, we don’t need as many as originally envisioned. You still have to pay the same for the dev costs, but money is still saved in the per unit cost. The whole debate is a good thing really, because it forces other options to be examined.

      • Blight

        The issue is marginal utility per dollar sunk into R&D. We can’t back out of paying R&D, but theoretically we’d get more platforms out per dollar, up to a point.

  • Byron Skinner

    Good Morning Folks,

    LM to DoD: ” Stick ’em up, we have an F-35 and I know how to use it.”

    DoD to LM: “At least give us the benefit of having a gun and wearing a mask.”

    Byron Skinner

  • Benjamin

    I think the best option would be to scrap the JSF, AF buys improved F-22’s and F-16E/F, Navy buys FA-18E/F blk III and UCAV, USMC buys an improved A-10 if operations are feasible from an LHD and FA-18E/F blk III.

    • BILL D

      I agree-I noted in other comments that the f16 &f15 airframe have enormous potential for upgrades and that can be done at one tenth the cost of the F35.

    • chaos0xomega

      Why would the Marines buy A-10s? They are a great airframe and do the CAS role better than anything else on that list, but they can’t take off from carriers or amphibs… what good are they to the marines?

      We also have to consider what happens with our allies in the event of cutting an F-35. Normally I could care less about that, but having our allies purchase a certain competitors plane instead could screw us in the long run…

    • ohwilleke

      An A-10 needs a minimum of 2500 feet of airstrip to take off, and that’s without being fully loaded (in which case it takes much more). A Nimitz class carrier has 1092 feet or runway available on its deck. Amphibious assault ships take more.

      A carrier based plane with the same mission and similar design choices to an A-10 is possible, but you’d pretty much need to start over from scratch to get something that could handle a short enough runway. I don’t see any way that a modest A-10 modification could do the trick.

      Indeed, something Osprey based might make the most sense for a Marine air to ground platform that would fulfill a similar mission to the A-10.

  • BILL D

    The rest of the world must be laughing their asses off as the only super power gets continually SCREWED by their own defense contractors.

  • BILL D

    At a price of 135mil. ea our suspected future enemies can put up 3 or 4 brand new fighters for 1 of ours.I guess the U S pilots would call that a target rich environment.I call it a recipe for disaster.

  • blackbull

    Dumb and dumber………. The F35 is a non functioning flying brick that does Nothing well. Looks just like another MacNamara boondoggle. Damn politicians dont have the brains to pour pee out of a pointy shoe. My gawd, we are surrounded by marxist/socialists and mentally retarded politicians.

  • Joseph

    135,000,000 $ each for a fighter aircraft that’s neither quite agile (no thrust vectoring…) nor really stealthy is bizarre.

    • SMSgt Mac

      ‘Nor really stealthy’? LOL! – Only in certain Aussie pundit’s fevered imaginations.

      • chaos0xomega

        Except its really not that stealthy… The designers themselves admitted that it has a larger radar signature than an F-22, and that its stealth characteristics are optimized for its forward facing surfaces (I.E. – it has a larger radar signature from the sides/rear/above/below). And lets see, its a single engne fighter with a rather large exhaust features, my guess being that it doesn’t have much in the way of IR/thermal reducing features…

        And then you realize that F-15/18 (and I would assume 16 as well) pilots conduct combat sims vs. F-22s and score kills every now and again… and if they can do it to an F-22, they sure as hell can do it to an F-35…

        and did I mention how loud the damn things are?

        • Matt

          Just because the F-35 is less stealthy than an F-22 doesn’t mean it’s “not that stealthy”. The thing has the radar signature of a steel marble. (As opposed to the F-22’s BB.) And because F-15s and -18s can score kills on F-22s “every now and again”, we should go back to building those instead? They date from the seventies!

          • chaos0xomega

            I think we should go a step farther and build updated F-4s, but I’m nostalgic like that (although if you never heard of it, the F-4 ‘Superphantom’ projects are rather interesting, makes you wonder why we didn’t have supercruise capable planes available in large quantitiy sooner)…

            Yes, you are correct in your assessment that they are stealthy, all what I am trying to do is point out that their stealth is not the impregnable shield that so many people imagine them to be. My primary concern about the F-22 and F-35 is not about how capable they are, but how many we end up with. If that means buying legacy/legacy.5 airframes as a stopgap measure to keep our air force/navy/marine corps flying while we get our acts together and figure out precisely what we need and how much its going to cost us, then so be it.

            Especially when you have the rumors of the T-50. An aircraft rumored to have capabilities roughly on par with the F-22 for half the price?

  • G Lof

    Blaming the contractors for a development system created by Congress and Pentagon bureaucraies is a waste of time an energy. Over the last forty years the power that be have destroyed the Military Industrial complex and replaced it was a centralal controllec military supply train copied from the old USSR. And since the people in charge of it have no insentives to control cost, or even produce any weapon what so every, and every reason to protect they asses with mountains of paperwork, natural all we get from them are “megatons” of useless paper.____Frankly if we want to save money we needed to go back to the days when we build a lots of different aircarft that can proform one mission well instead of a single arecraft type that proform no missions at all.__

  • Tom

    I think by the end of the year some of those flags are going to fall off the side of that aircraft, not many foreign countrys like footing more of the bill that got a out of control. To bad… another great NATO plan, shot down before it will really get off.

  • The Norwegian

    The fly-away cost of a F-22 is between 130 and 140 million dollars, the same as F-35, which makes it quite obsurd to buy only 187 of the superb air-to-air F-22 which is also air-to-ground capable, and 2443 of the F-35 which is slower, can’t carry more weapons than the F-22, and mostly air-to-ground configured. The F-35 is not designed with all-aspect stealth as the F-22 is, and everybody knows it. You got to buy more F-22s Gates! Its also quite obsurd to use a lot of money to develop such a fantastic aircraft as the F-22, and then both deny close allies the chance to buy it and also building only 187. The US has commitments which they only increase when export of F-22 is denied.

    • BILL D

      Think of 21 B2s

    • What on earth would make you think that the United States wants its most advanced stealth fighter flying in foreign air forces with no oversight of technology assessment? You do realize that there are still nations that can’t create the B-2 level of outdated, high-maintenance stealth technology, right?

      • The Norwegian

        Actually the F-22 also have high-maintenance stealth technology, which is partly because Gates wanted to end production of the fighter. But I think high maintenance means you need more F-22 to have an adecvate number ready. And my point was, that when export is denied, at least the US itself should have enough F-22. 187 F-22s to protect the democratic world ain't much. Especially when they don't cost more than the F-35 anyway.

  • Tony C

    The US Navy was right to bypass congress and develop the F-18F/F in case the F-35 never became reality. The F-18E/F is designated as an 80% solution in the roles it was designed to perform, so why not develop a specialized 20% solution using UCAV’s? The F-35 program has become a fiasco, like the old US Navy A-12 program that they cancelled. The F-35 is now a lead sled with all the hrdware in place, much like teh F-4 Phantom II. The F-4 Phantom had two engines to carry the load. Time to revamp teh F-35 to a lightweight Air Force land based fighter and let the US Navy develop their own replacement for the F-18C/D and F-14 for teh fleet.

  • ohwilleke

    F-35 cost per unit (average cost) in 2001: $70 million
    Inflation since 2001: $14 million
    Increased per plane R&D due to smaller buy of planes: $9.5 million or less.
    Cost overruns from contractor: $41.5 million
    Total average cost: $135 million
    F-35 marginal cost: $108 million.

    By my calculations, the marginal cost of an F-22 is about $220 million (compared to $360 million average unit cost). By comparison, the marginal cost of an already developed F-18E/F is about $90 million, and the marginal cost of an already developed export model of the F-16 is about $27 million.

    Bottom line: the F-35 is very expensive by any measure.

    • SMSgt Mac

      Interesting back of the envelope cost analysis. Accepting the numbers provided as a basis, now factor in O&S cost/yr comparisons. For ROM estimates a multiple of acquisition costs is usually used for lifetime O&S. In this case you will have to adjust for the F-35 needing “less tanker/transport and less infrastructure with a smaller basing footprint” than legacy fighters, and the F-18E/F costs somewhat higher for encountering major obsolescence issues at least a decade earlier than the F-35.
      end of part 1…

      • ohwilleke

        Fair point. The JSF was sold as both cheap to build and as cheap to maintain. But, given the maintenance difficulties of the F-22 and the difficulty they’ve had getting the F-35 into the field, and the complexity of the F-35B, I’m not willing to put much stock in the operating cost estimates yet.

    • adkiiuyr

      I had understood marginal cost of F-22 is well under $140million, maybe 120million. I think it is only needed one type of 5th generation but must be the best for air superiority. And the best is F-22.
      So I would buy several hundreds more of F-22 and then lots of updated F15s, F18s and F16s, the 4.5 versions of them. And lots of UAVs.
      Also F-22 should be exported to allied countries.

  • ohwilleke

    “Amphibious assault ships take more” should have read “Amphibious assault ships have even shorter runways.”

  • Brian Crowley

    Might be a good time to buy Boeing stock. F-22 is part Boeing as well as F-15
    & F-18.

  • Tony C

    I need to slow down and correct the spelling in these blogs, but it seems to me that the weight issue will be a factor in the F-35 performance. The removal of fire extinguishers in the engine bay to save weight is a red flag. The removal of the gatling gun from the VSTOL F-35B to save weight is another red flag. There has to be some realism added to the equation of performance versus weight and what is needed to perform a real world mission. Stealth technology is expensive and may not give all the benefits advertised with new air defense radars and digital signal processing. The Russian answer is extreme manuverability, which has merit to out manuver a missile in some flight regimes. Missiles are relatively cheap, so the enemy will simply fire more missiles. Stealth has an advantage in the ability to get closer before detection.
    This doesn’t mean it will be impervious to air defenses, so a large number of conventional airframes over a small number of stealth airframes does have merit. The measure-countermeasure developments continue and the answers are getting more and more expensive. The F-18E/F is cheap enough to be used for most missions and if they are lost, not break the treasury.

    • chaos0xomega

      You sir, are a poet.

      Stealth may seem to be ‘the answer’ to us now, but rest assured that it won’t take long before the counter to stealth is developed (if some rumors/theories, etc. are to be believed, the bypass to our stealth technology may very well be sitting right beneath our enemies noses, and they may not even realize it).

    • brian

      Stealth is the only answer. Extreme maneuverability means nothing when the missile is traveling 2x your speed. Its like the plane is standing still. Forget it when direct energy weapons are brought to bare, then it won’t matter at all. That being said, we need stealth that can it hard to reach places as well as take down air defenses, and we need rugged cheaper non-stealth planes to deal with everything else.

  • brian

    I guess its time to kill the F35 and buy more F22’s + F18’s. I don’t think I have seen this much consensus on a military issue on this site ever.

    • ohwilleke

      Kill the F-35? No. Buy fewer? Yes. The DOD needs to recognize that not all missions require (1) stealth, (2) supersonic speeds, and (3) advanced aerobatic capability, which drive cost. We should have cheaper alternative for missions that don’t require more.
      1. In the Air Force: Replacements for the A-10 and AC-130, a smaller COIN aircraft, more small fixed wing aircraft like the C-27 that the Army is buying, something along the lines of a B-747 to replace the B-52, and a new generation of tanker aircraft to extend the range of our fighters and intratheater cargo planes.
      2. We need a cheaper alternative to the F-16 to patrol civilian airspace for errant general and commercial aviation craft and improveived para-military aircraft for the National Guard and the Coast Guard. It shoud lack significant air to group capabilities, have a light weapons load, have advanced sensors, have generation 3 fighter speed and agility, and should be easy to operate and maintain.
      3. We should have more P-8s to do much of the work now being done by surface warfare ships in anti-surface ship and anti-submarine warfare, and may want to reconsider the decision to decomission the S-3 for those roles.

      • brian

        If we buy fewer, the cost per unit sky rockets. So what variant is worth buying at such a huge cost? the F-35B looks like a possibly good candidate for marines, but is it worth the cost considering other the other planes available RIGHT NOW at a fraction of the cost?

        • ohwilleke

          I don’t know about “sky rockets.” We have about $64 billion tops in R&D on the F-35 and more importantly, we’ve already spent most of it, for better or for worse.

          At this point what matters is the marginal cost of the F-35 v. the marginal cost of alternatives.

      • chaos0xomega

        If you ask me, the DoD needs to recognize that multi-role planes are not the way to go. On paper, it looks like a good deal, one platform that can do jobs that would normally require 5 different platform, but then you realize that one plane costs about as much as 5 different planes, but doesn’t have the flexibility of being able to be in 5 different locations at once…

      • Riceball

        “3. We should have more P-8s to do much of the work now being done by surface warfare ships in anti-surface ship and anti-submarine warfare, and may want to reconsider the decision to decomission the S-3 for those roles. ”

        Knowing the Navy they’re probably contemplating the notion of developing and SF-18 for that role. It seems that they want to try to come up with as many roles as possible for the F-18 so an SF-18 would be the next logical step along with a CF-18 (to replace the C-2 fleet) and an AEW variant EF-18 as well.

  • Blight

    It’s probably too late to spin off the VSTOL variant and attempt to rush out the Navy and AF variant independently. Or at least, isolate whichever version is pushing the costs up.

    Or if it’s cheaper to concede that all three versions won’t have as much commonality as originally designed. I mean, Huey and Cobra have some similar parts, but nobody pretends that they look alike; and certainly nobody tried to build a Cobra gunship out of too many Huey parts to compromise the mission.

  • pfcem


    Your own calculated ‘marginal cost’ (I am not going to comment on its accuracy/inaccuracy) is ‘just 20% more that the F/A-18E/F. A F-35 for 20% higher ‘marginal cost’ than the F/A-18E/F IS A BARGIN!

    • TMB

      $90-$115 million for 2500 or so F-35s and $80 million for 400 F-18E/Fs. If the production runs were equal in number, what would the price be for both?

      • TMB

        The price is for each plane. Oops.

  • roland

    It could be a good strike fighter candidate if it have low price tag.

  • Robert Fritts

    Maybe the USAF should buy some BARE SU-30 airframes, send them down to Israel to get the all the electronics installed for real war, then we give Lockheed-Martin $30million each for not building aircraft. Everyones happy and the taxpayer saves $60million per aircraft!

  • CTOCS77

    Total JSF program cost is now estimated at $329 billion for a 2,443 aircraft buy, up from the original 2001 baseline estimate of $197 billion for 2,852 fighters (all figures are in then year dollars). The jump in the per unit price triggers a Nunn-McCurdy “critical breach,” requiring a “recertification” from Defense Secretary Robert Gates that the fighter is vital to national security; which, of course will happen.

    Cut the contract and re-bid. No way do we need that many F-35’s, What we need are TOYOTA Pick-ups and RPG’s.

  • CTOCS77

    Anything that has a “J” in it is over budget and behind sked. The Joint Experiement is a failure. You might as well put everyone in the same uniform and stop all this duplication of services. If the Airforce had any vision they would own all the planes that the Navy has today. With today’s technology we do not need all the forward deployed troops sitting in the Fulda Gap waiting for the Russians to come across. All the in-fighting and the services at the expense of the taxpayers. You do not need the F-35 to fight America’s new enemies. Hopefully when Gates justifies the need for the F-35 he is tied to a lie detector.

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  • Zulfiqar Ali Sial

    It is seems corruption in production of these guys. Of which material the aircraft is made of? which cost hundreds of million dollars…

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