Saturday, December 1, 2012

The real F-35 LRIP-5 costs

The U.S. Defense Department and Lockheed Martin have reached an agreement for the F-35 low rate initial production contract batch 5 also known as LRIP-5.

This has taken over a year to figure out due to the new requirement for fixed price contracts for the program.

The word is that the contract is somewhere around $4 billion for 32 aircraft. Little-to-no mention is given to an additional over $2B dollars that make up LRIP-5 production costs.

The spend on LRIP-5 F-35s is not around $4B. It is over $6B.

Last year, at the end of December, an undefinitized DOD contract for LRIP-5 F-35 airframes was released. At the time LRIP-5 was projected to be for 30 aircraft, down from 42 aircraft when long-lead contracts started being issued in 2010.

Trends: when the program started many years ago, LRIP-5 was to be 120 aircraft.

The recent announcement (with a released contract expected sometime in December), is hailed as a success. However, according to this must-read analysis from early in 2012 (based on LRIP-5 being 30 aircraft and not the newly revised 32), $4B only gets you some of the roll-away price for the jets.

So, in procurement dollars alone, expect the average cost of a LRIP-5 F-35 to be over $198M each, not counting engineering changes.

Also, TR2 hardware, needed to drive Block 3 software, does not arrive until LRIP-6 aircraft are delivered.

All this is for a troubled aircraft that is still nowhere near go-to war trim.

" ...about $77 million per copy."
-Robert Gates, U.S. Secretary of Defense, Feb. 2008.


Mike said...


Giovannia de Briganti over on is doing some fine are you!

Once again highlights the massive gulf that exists on the WWW between factual sites like and Air Power Australia along with blogs such as yours and those internet websites like the Lexington Institute with their penchant for pure, unadulterated BS and 'cash for comment' opinions masquarading as journalism.

Then, of course, we shouldn't forget the news forum sites that we have all come to know, as one eminent defense journalist calls them, as "...the kiddies' sites that harbour the worst of internet trolls".

Funny how "the worst of internet trolls" go silent and retreat back to their "kiddies' sites" when confronted with the realities of hard numbers and the truth.

Horde said...

Both well said, Eric and Mike.

The actual average aircraft unit price (AAUP) of the LRIP 5 aircraft will be well North of 200 Million Dollars, per.

According to folks who know, the other side of that figure will almost certainly be the case for the F-35A CTOL jets coming out of LRIP 6, as well.

However, the word is to stand by for some really creative accounting.

Horde said...

Oops! Just so there is no room for confusion or confabulation:

"According to folks who know, the other (upper) side of that figure will also, almost certainly, be the case for the F-35A CTOL jets coming out of LRIP 6."

Cocidius said...

What a surprise, the F-35 continues to cost far more than its original price tag.

Remember, when we purchase thousands of semi-functional mistake jets it all going to become affordable!

Time to call in SpudmanWP, Dr. Feelgood, etc, etc, and generate some more marketing bullshit to cover the "new" inflated price tag.

Alert 1 said...

Of course the price is rising. We are printing money at a mind boggling rate.

Quite unfathomable that we couldn't afford ten Raptors a year in the intervening years from the last one to whenever.... Stupid.

Anonymous said...

Speaking to people on other (Canadian) blogs, the pro- F-35 folk concentrate on two arguments: 1) of course LRIP is costly, but it'll come down to the government's estimate once in full production, and 2) it's costly NOW to operate but once our engineers and staff are used to it, it'll be much cheaper per flying hour.

Any good sources to either dispute or support those assertions? Any good historical data for, say, the F-18s in development versus in current production?

NGF said...

The RAAF needs to do some serious work on a Plan B to assess alternatives to the F-35.

It is a high level strategic risk to depend on an immature, unproven aircraft at an unknown cost.

Anonymous said...

They already did,it is called the F18SH.

NGF said...

"They already did,it is called the F18SH"

That's true - up to a point. The RAAF's purchase of 24 SH's was an "interim" solution to replace the F-111 until the JSF arrives.

As I understand it, the idea of buying about another 18 SH's is simply an extension of the "interim" solution while still waiting for the JSF.

But what happens if the JSF does not arrive, or it is not as effective as claimed, or is unaffordable?

In my view the RAAF should run a serious competitive process - just as other countries do (eg India South Korea) to determine which aircraft type(s) best meet Australia's strategic needs and budget. So far, the RAAF has not run such a process to replace the Classic Hornets or F-111's.

In addition to the JSF and SH, other types that could be considered include: Typhoon, Rafale, Gripen, and late model F-15 and F-16.

Let the best fighter win.

Peter said...

The advanced F-15E+ should be considered because the F/A-18E/F is overweight and underpowered aircraft that useless for the requirements.

Peter said...

To Anonymous

There was a damning report of the Super Hornet in areas of critical operational requirements, while praising it for its improved aircraft carrier capabilities when compared to the original F/A-18A-D Hornet - something not high on our list of essential criteria.

Three sentences on page eight of the report say it all: "The consequences of low specific excess power in comparison to the threat are poor climb rates, poor sustained turn capability, and a low maximum speed. Of greatest tactical significance is the lower maximum speed of the F/A-18E/F since this precludes the ability to avoid or disengage from aerial combat. In this regard, the F/A-18E/F is only marginally inferior to the F/A-18C/D, whose specific excess power is also considerably inferior to that of the primary threat, the MiG-29."

Apart from the new Sukhoi Su-27/30 Flanker family of Russian fighters proliferating across the region: the F/A-18E/F is acknowledged in the report as being no match for even the older and newer MiG-29 family. Space precludes quoting the report's comments on the multitude of other areas where the Super Hornet is inferior to the 1970s-designed and 1980s-built original F/A-18 aircraft. Admittedly the Block II Super Hornet has a new APG-79 AESA radar and some electronic components not in the version Coyle gave evidence on, but the fundamental airframe and performance remain unaltered: it is heavier, slower, larger and uglier (its radar signature did not measure up to expectations) than the normal Hornet.

Evidently the underwing aero-acoustic environment and resulting vibrations are so violent that some weapons are being damaged in transit to the target on a single flight - dumb bombs are fine in that environment but not long-range missiles containing sophisticated and relatively delicate components. To me there is nothing super about this Hornet; perhaps "Super Dog" is a better descriptor.

Here is a list of potential multi purpose fighters listed in order of power to weight:

Plane Description - Thrust/Weight

1. Advanced F-15E Strike Eagle export models - 6.36:1(with F110-GE-132 engines)

2. F-16 Fighting Falcon - 6.36:1

3. Eurofighter Typhoon - 1.15

4. Dassault Rafale - 1.10 (100% fuel, 2 EM A2A missile, 2 IR A2A missile)

5. Sukhoi Su-35S Super Flanker-E - 1.13

6. F-35 Lightning II - With full fuel: 0.87 - With 50% fuel: 1.07

7. SAAB JAS-39 Gripen - 0.97

8. F/A-18A-D Hornet - 0.96

9. F/A-18E/F Super Hornet - 0.93

Eric Palmer said...


The SH carrier ops safety metrics are nice though.

Anonymous said...

1. Advanced F-15E Strike Eagle export models - 6.36:1(with F110-GE-132 engines)

2. F-16 Fighting Falcon - 6.36:1


Anonymous said...

Boeing's Eagle line has not been this hot in years.. 84+ Eagles for Saudi, Qatar impressed by recent evaluations, and rumor has it South Korea will be going for the SE next year. Australia would be smart to buy some.

Anonymous said...

Australian " Defence" smart.

Peter said...

Hi Anonymous

I had that same expression myself too when I researched the F110-GE-100 series and saw the thrust-weight ratio rated 6.36:1 I thought gee that powerful, but no big deal it can be corrected.

Regards Pete

Peter said...

To Anonymous

Oops! Sorry not 6:36.1

1. Advanced F-15E Strike Eagle export models - 1.14 (with F110-GE-132 engines)

2. F-16E/F Fighting Falcon - 1.14 (with F110-GE-132 engine)

Thank you for noticing the 6.36:1, maybe if you want to report to the Wikipedia about the information of the thrust/weight ratio for the F110-GE 100 series engine to correct thrust/weight rating to 1.14 so the readers out their cannot be mistaken to think the 6.36.1 rating is far more powerful than its predecessors.

Indeed, Australia would be smart to buy the F-15SE as a best replacement for the F/A-18A/B Hornets. Oh yeah since when you mentioned about South Korea, have they already made an announcement which fighter they've chosen for the FX-III requirement?

Anonymous said...

"if you want to report to the Wikipedia about the information of the thrust/weight ratio for the F110-GE 100 series engine to correct thrust/weight rating to 1.14 so the readers out their cannot be mistaken to think the 6.36.1 rating is far more powerful than its predecessors."

If I was going to report anything to wiki it would be that you don't seem to know the difference between thrust to weight ratio regarding an engine vs an aircraft. Since I don't use wiki as a source, you are welcome to it though :)

Bushranger 71 said...

A bit off thread, but 6SQN has apparently become pretty non-effective as a Super Hornet conversion training unit. A number of former F/A-18 instructor pilots have reputedly quit due to dissatisfaction with their comparatively benign 2 seater role on the Super Hornet.

The priorities for the ADF might be massaged somewhat in Defence White Paper 2013 presently in gestation. Considering US Navy shortage of airframes, maybe a good time to explore a potential deal for trading all of the Hornets and Super Hornets for a better platform.

Bushranger 71 said...

See this article in The Australian:

General Peter Leahy is one of the very few former ADF leaders prepared to acknowledge the unaffordability of flawed planning and associated poor hardware choices.

Anonymous said...

All airframes have formally been evaluated and it's a dead heat between Eurofighter and Silent Eagle. South Korea will not make a decision until next year, but I heard from a few close sources that Boeing currently has the lead and is CLOSE to finalizing the deal. This could very well change in the 11th hour though...

Boeing is wanting to keep the Eagle line open until the mid 2020's and with the SK and Qatar orders that could become reality.

Peter said...

To Anonymous

I do know the difference between thrust to weight ratio regarding an engine vs an aircraft. I just saw it mentioned the thrust/weight is 6:36.1 on that article for the F110 series engine. Just this time I that mistake early on.

May I ask which website is the best to find sources to research info? What can you suggest?


Peter said...

Hello Bushranger 71

Really, so a number of former F/A-18 instructor pilots have reputedly quit for their dissatisfaction with the 2 seater role on the Super Hornet. I guess they prefer the single seaters and better performance etc, as mentioned above when I posted earlier the charateristics and the performance of the Super Hornet is inferior to the early A-D models. Have the former Hornet instructors converted back to the Classic Hornet or flying other aircraft?

For instance if I was a fighter pilot I wouldn't be satisfied with both the F-35 and F/A-18E/F inferior platforms.

Yeah I agree that it is a good time to trade all the F/A-18A/Bs and F/A-18Fs for a better proven platform. At the first place the RAAF should've retired all the A/B models since 2 years ago, not continuing the expensive road map upgrades on centre-barrels, weaponry, EWSP jammers, fire control radar and increasing the airframe hours to 10,000. At the time the F-22 was the best aircraft to replace the Classic Hornet fleet but now the production line is ceased and not for export. So I reckon the late model F-15s are the only viable alternative to realce the Hornet which provides longer range, bigger weapons load, more powerful radar/sensors, better acceleration/agility, maintainability, affordability etc.

There is another guy I agree with the statement, the WWW Submission: 4. Air Force/Air Power. Sent on Monday, 4th August 2008 to the Defence White Paper.

I’m not sure who he is, which probably remains anonymous.

I’ll put some of the description whats been sent.

“Because of Australia’s land mass, a large twin engine fighter is the practical choice for Australia’s needs, and basing them in locations around Australia which would provide protection and cover for most or all of Australia’s coastline, with a practical 30 minute response to almost any location on our coast”.

“This would mean a fighter capable of Mach 2.5, like the F-22 or the F-15. The F-15, even today, when Australia builds new Eagles on licence from Boeing, can provide a massive amount of capability compared to the lightweight Hornets. The F-15s can be based at 3 locations in Western Australia which currently has no fighters based here and can be based on average of 2 locations per state. With a requirement for around 200-210 airframes, and with around 1500Air to air missiles and 2000 bombs, Australia will be comprehensively set up for a secure Air shield. Even the Sukhois which now outpace the Hornets will now be matched by the aquisition of the Eagle”.

“The F-35 JSF is a single engine fighter but is not as practical as a large twin engine fighter. New Zealand, Singapore, Korea and Japan would be ideal locations for a single engine fighter. All of those countries have the F-15 except for New Zealand which chose to disregard its Air Force and now is unable to even shoot down airliners if terrorists gain control of the cockpit. Considering the countries in Asia who we are strong friends with have bought the F-15, says a lot for this superiority fighter aircraft”.

If you want to find out more information go to Australian Government, Department of Defence search engine type in Submission: Air Force/Air Power PDF file and then you’ll get the idea.

Bushranger 71 said...

Hi Peter,

The operating level source re Super Hornet instructors inferred some of them are just leaving the Service; but back to the F-35.

The son of a RAAF colleague has been a Flight Test Engineer on the JSF program for about 3.5 years (as a Squadron Leader) but is not being replaced in his role as from June 2013, whatever that means.

The F-15SE or the F/A-18F will not suit all nations that want to replace their F-16s and in any case it seems improbable that Boeing could up production sufficiently to offset the looming timeframe capabilities deficits. The F-16 assembly line is still extant but the possibilities in that direction are seemingly being ignored by US politicians. It all demonstrates the frightening power of LM within the military-industrial complex.

The JSF project seems likely to become the biggest political embarrassment of all time for the US.

Anonymous said...


FYI, Boeing has previously stated (IIRC) that the SH line could accommodate production for around 65-70 units per year in the current assembly space.

As far as F-15 capacity is concerned, that's a good question but peraps within a couple years there could be added space to assemble an additional 10 units or so per year?

So no, there's no absolute 'strangle hold' as you say by LM in US politics regardless of how powerful the current F-35 lobby exists.

Anonymous said...

A long way from the 72 F4's a month at the height of the Vietnam war.

Bushranger 71 said...

Hi Anonymous,

I meant concern at the political influence of a smaller number, but now very big, multinational arms manufacturers. I believe this is demonstrated by how the US legislators have allowed LM to perpetrate a con on many nations by 'inducing' them to subsidise what I believe will be both a political disaster for the US and a military quagmire for the western world.

The reality is many of the 4,500 or so F-16s produced will begin running out of refurbishable life much before the F-35 is likely to be an operationally proven platform, let alone affordable. My guess is there is not the western world capacity, short of full-scale military-industrial mobilisation a la previous conflicts, to satisfy the imminent needs of many nations who do not envisage themselves involving in 'star wars' technology concepts of operations.

Fundamentally, defence budgets are shrinking worldwide yet the big arms manufacturers are pursuing unaffordable prices for some of their wares, thus making it more crucial that prudent choices be made in military hardware acquisitions. Imagine the consequences in Australia alone, if we committed to 70 (or fewer) F-35 and it does not achieve anything like operational expectations, as seems probable with Wedgetail!

Potentially, a bunch of nations are going to become very pissed off with America concerning the JSF project.