Projected F-35 program costs decline by $7.5 billion

Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet is built in west Fort Worth.
Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet is built in west Fort Worth. Via Bloomberg

Projected costs for Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet have dipped $7.5 billion, or 1.9 percent, in the last year, primarily because of revised inflation estimates and reduced labor costs, the Pentagon said Thursday.

Projected development and acquisition costs for the F-35, which is being built at Lockheed’s complex in west Fort Worth, declined to $391.1 billion for a planned fleet of 2,443 planes from $398.6 billion previously, according to the Defense Department.

The updated cost projection were released as part of the Pentagon’s compilation of Selected Acquisition Reports on the status of 79 major weapons systems. The annual reports are viewed by lawmakers, analysts and defense contractors as barometers of costs and delays.

The F-35 has drawn particular scrutiny because it’s the costliest program and has come under fire in past years for rising costs and technical delays. Because of its size, even a small increase or decrease signals a shift of billions of dollars.

Lockheed and its corporate partners on the project have been working to reduce costs. Last July, they announced a plan to spend $170 million through 2016 to bring down the cost of the fighter from more than $100 million apiece to about $80 million by the end of the decade.

The F-35 got an endorsement Wednesday from a longtime critic, Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“After suffering years of unacceptable cost growth and schedule delays, the program appears to have started to stabilize,” McCain said at a committee hearing. Cost and technical challenges remain, he said.

At the same time, the Pentagon’s independent cost-assessment office projects its estimate for operating and supporting the F-35 over its projected 55-year service life remains at $1.02 trillion, according to the report.

Charts in the Pentagon report also outline how much money has been approved by Congress and the remaining funding required.

For the F-35, $99.5 billion has been approved to date, leaving more than $290 billion to go to buy variations of the aircraft for the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy.

F-35 airframe costs decreased 1.8 percent, or $5.8 billion, while costs for the engines dropped 2.3 percent, or $1.6 billion, according to the report.

Mike Rein, a Lockheed Martin spokesman, said that the company’s share of the projected reduction — about $4.4 billion — can be attributed to changes that include “improved supply-chain delivery timelines, improved production-line efficiency” and fewer corrections and modifications that needed to be incorporated after testing.

The Pentagon's report contains newer data than one issued this month by the Government Accountability Office, which cited a continued increase in F-35 costs.

This article includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.