The US Department of Defense (DoD) has reduced its estimated cost for the operation and maintenance of its F-35 joint strike fighter (JSF) fleet for the next 55 years by 22%, to less than $1tn.
The new $857bn estimate is derived from the fighter’s performance in 5,000 flight tests over 7,000 hours, Bloomberg reports citing F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office program executive officer lieutenant general Christopher Bogdan’s written response to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Bogdan said,”The previous cost estimate did not factor in this new knowledge.
”Significant effort remains to continue to find cost efficiencies and reduce this number even further. I expect these cost estimates to continue to go down over the next several years as the programme matures.”
Compiled by the DoD’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) Office, the existing projection puts the operating costs, covering spare parts, repairs and fuel at around $1.1tn.
Meanwhile, CAPE Office spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea refused to comment on Bogdan’s reduced projection.
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Expected to cost $391.2bn for 2,443 jets, the F-35 development by Lockheed Martin represents DoD’s most expensive weapon programme to date, and has constantly been criticised by the US Congress.
Despite its heavy price tag, the plane has already been sheltered from this year’s budget cuts, and is also expected to be protected from the impacts of $52bn of sequestration cuts scheduled for 2014, according to the news agency.
However, Bogdan said the additional cuts will force the Pentagon to cancel the delivery of a fully capable software version required by the aircraft to address its warfighting potential, and will also result in ‘a reduction in the number of aircraft’ to be acquired.
Additionally, Bogdan estimated the basic production costs for all three aircraft variants to reduce by as much as $35m an aircraft by 2018, when full-rate production will start.
The three aircraft variants include a conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant for the US Air Force, a short takeoff and landing (STOVL) for the US Marine Corps and UK military and a carrier version (CV) for US Navy.
Image: An F-35C fighter during a test flight over the Chesapeake Bay in US. Photo: courtesy of Andy Wolfe.