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Lockheed F-35 Cost Estimate by U.S. Increases 9% in Year

Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 fighter jet, the U.S. military’s most expensive weapons program, will cost $1.51 trillion, a 9 percent increase from the estimate a year ago, according to Pentagon officials.

The program’s projected “life cycle cost” -- including development since 1994, production of 2,443 jets and 55 years of support -- increased from $1.38 trillion in 2010, the officials said today in a briefing for reporters.

“Any cost growth, given our mandate to drive cost out of the program, is not optimal, but from the standpoint of just percentages, it’s not a significant amount from one year to the next,” Major General John Thompson, the deputy F-35 program manager, said.

Holding down the F-35’s cost is a major goal for the Defense Department, Thompson said, echoing statements of other officials, including Frank Kendall, acting undersecretary for acquisition.

Laurie Quincy, a spokeswoman for Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin, said the projections “are based on a number of variables that are subject to considerable fluctuations over the next 55 years, making the estimate inherently imprecise.”

“Lockheed Martin remains confident that F-35 operations and support costs will be comparable to or lower than that of the seven platforms it will replace,” she said in an e-mailed statement today.

Effects of Delays

Among causes for the 9 percent increase cited by Thompson and in Pentagon documents were revised inflation-escalation indexes, the effect of delaying aircraft purchases three consecutive years; labor, hours and materials costs that were higher than expected; and international sales that were less than anticipated.

The cost estimate for the acquisition phase alone increased 4.3 percent to $395.7 billion in inflation-adjusted “then-year” dollars.

Support-cost projections increased in part because of fuel-price estimates and a decision to extend calculations for the fleet’s service life to 55 years from 52 years.

Thompson said the F-35 program office estimates were close to those developed by the Pentagon’s independent cost-analysis office.

Independent Office

The similarities make the numbers more credible, Thompson said. Congress created the independent office to improve weapons-cost estimates and help curb excessive cost growth.

The $1.1 trillion represents 55 years of fleet-wide support, from the introduction of the first low-rate production aircraft delivered 18 month ago to the last one delivered years from now, according to Todd Mellon, the Pentagon’s F-35 sustainment director.

The estimate includes all manpower at the aircraft unit-level for the Air Force, Navy and Marines; fuel and spare;, indirect costs associated with security and engineering and updates of technical data and manuals, Mellon said.

It also includes costs to retrofit the aircraft with new capabilities, he said.

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