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Pentagon’s Kendall Questions Drop in F-35 Support Costs

The Pentagon’s weapons buyer questioned whether operating costs for Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 fighters will drop as low as the $857 billion over 55 years predicted by the office developing the plane.

“We’re looking at that number,” Frank Kendall, the Defense Department’s undersecretary for acquisition, said today.

He was asked about an estimate provided to lawmakers by the F-35 program office in July that said maintaining a fleet of the fighters would cost 22 percent less than the official estimate of $1.1 trillion developed two years ago by the Pentagon’s independent cost-assessment office. Operating costs include expenses from spare parts to repairs and fuel.

“We are going to do a review of F-35 this fall and we’ll get another estimate out of” the cost-analysis office, Kendall said after speaking at defense conference in Washington. “We’ll probably make some adjustments. I do expect it to come down. I don’t know if it will come down” to $857 billion.

The F-35 is the Pentagon’s costliest weapon system, with an estimated price tag of $391.2 billion for a fleet of 2,443 aircraft, up 68 percent from the projection in 2001, as measured in current dollars.

The rising costs and troubles in building the plane even as it’s being developed have led to criticism in Congress. This year, lawmakers, the Government Accountability Office and the Pentagon test office have said the aircraft is making progress in flight tests and in stabilizing production.

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