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Will the Next Generation of Fighters Fly?

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Unread 09.16.11, 12:00 PM
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Will the Next Generation of Fighters Fly?

On 09.16.11 06:30 AM posted by Michaela Bendikova

When it comes to the Pentagon’s acquisition process, the devil is in the details. Some details, however, can have deadly consequences for men and women in uniform. Loren Thompson offers a sobering analysis of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s (JSF) costs over its 50-year operational lifetime and how the Pentagon itself distorted the picture by making the F-35 seem more expensive than it actually is.

The JSF is designed to replace the aging fleet at a time when more than half of the Navy’s deployed aircraft are not fit for combat. The Pentagon is struggling to maintain a brisk operational tempo, and there are significant problems with most of the aging platforms. This tempo will be unsustainable, especially if the debt ceiling defense cuts happen.

It seems counterintuitive that the Pentagon would present its own numbers in a way that harms the JSF program. Yet, as Thompson writes, that is precisely what happened. For example, the F-35’s estimated sustainment costs are 20 percent lower than those of the existing fleet of tactical aircraft ($12 billion versus $10.6 billion annually); however, this is usually omitted in the reporting for Congress. In addition, the cost of sustainment was not reported in today’s dollars (about $500 billion over 50 years) but was magically estimated at $1.069 trillion. This, of course, further raised congressional concerns about affordability.

The pace of U.S. military operations in the last decade has been unrelenting. The U.S. Air Force has been flying combat operations for the past 20 years, and it has seen aircraft fall from the sky—likely due to wear and tear. Russia and China are developing their own versions of the fifth-generation fighter. It is crucial that the U.S. keep its fleet updated. American air power and superiority provide largely unhindered support for combat troops and unmatched ease of transporting military hardware and personnel around the globe. Air power is a decisive force multiplier in both peacetime and war.

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