111015-N-UM734-932PENTAGON: By combing through the assumptions — some of them deeply questionable — undergirding the Defense Department’s official cost estimates for the F-35B and refining them, the Marines say the plane should cost 16.6 percent less per flight hour than the current estimate. Since the F-35B is the most expensive plane to operate, lowering these cost estimates for the Joint Strike Fighter’s Marine version would have a substantial impact on the program’s overall costs.

“We believe we are going to achieve much greater savings than we are currently being credited for,” Marine Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle, deputy commandant for aviation, told me in an interview here.

Among the questionable assumptions Schmidle highlighted is this whopper: the Office of Secretary Defense estimate developed by the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office (CAPE) predicted that the F-35B would be flown at full throttle in STOVL mode — which uses enormous amounts of fuel and utilizes the highly sophisticated lift fan system at much greater rates than the Marines project — about 80 percent of its time in the air.

Anyone who has watched the Harrier or the F-35B knows that Marines pilots rely sparingly on STOVL mode. It’s only used for a limited set of tactical moves and, usually, for taking off or landing the aircraft. The great majority of the plane’s flight time — could it be as much as 80 percent? — would be spent flying without using the lift fan and STOVL.

The current CAPE estimate assumes $41,000 an hour for the F-35B. A senior defense official said they will eventually bring the costs down to $30,000 per hour, with an interim figure of about $37,000. Schmidle also notes that the F-35B’s cost figures were extrapolated from the costs of the much older AV-8B Harrier.

Overall, once the F-35 replaces the three Marine aircraft — F-18, EA-6B, Harrier — it is designed to supplant the Marines will save an estimated $520 million a year in operations and maintenance costs in 2012 dollars, Schmidle says.

We understand Frank Kendall, undersecretary for aquisition, technology and logistics, and Sean Stackley, head of Navy procurement, have both been briefed on the new Marines estimates.

Why are the Marines so focused on these costs? “Probably the biggest threat to the airplane is the sustainment costs,” Schmidle told me.

In addition to the Marines lower cost estimates, the F-35 program office has lowered the program’s $1.1 trillion estimated costs over a half century to $857 billion, about 22 percent lower than the previous estimates. My colleague Tony Capaccio got ahold of the new information in written answers sent last month to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, head of the Joint Program Office building the F-35, told the SASC that the new information is derived from new data gathered from 7,000 hours of actual flight.

 

Comments

  • 2IDSGT

    “Among the questionable assumptions Schmidle highlighted is this whopper: the Office of Secretary Defense estimate developed by the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office (CAPE) predicted that the F-35B would be flown at full throttle in STOVL mode — which uses enormous amounts of fuel and utilizes the highly sophisticated lift fan system at much greater rates than the Marines project — about 80 percent of its time in the air.”

    OMFG!!! What other jewels of idiocy have yet to be discovered in CAPE’s assessment?

  • M&S

    >>
    The current CAPE estimate assumes $41,000 an hour for the F-35B. a senior defense official said they will eventually bring the costs down to $30,000 per hour, with an interim figure of about $37,000. Schmidle also notes that the F-35B’s cost figures were extrapolated from the costs of the much older AV-8B Harrier.
    >>

    Hunh? Whut?! Whoa Camel! I said WHOA!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBhlQgvHmQ0

    Last I checked, CPFH was supposed to be _31,000 dollars per flying hour_!!!

    Sixteen percent of 41,000 is 6,560 dollars or 34,440 dollars per flying hour. How the heck do you gain 3,440 dollars on the red ink side of the budget sheet and consider this to be an ‘improvement’?!!

    And since when, given the jets flight controls essentially perform like the FLCS on an advanced helicopter with auto approach to hover hold and even auto-descent, does the USMC need to do /any/ STOVL training?
    I mean, is not the essence of STOVL that it doesn’t require constant CarQual to put the 140 knot lick to the third wire postage stamp?

    The F-35B, unlike a Harrier, can land just fine in CTOL mode and 99.9999% of the time the Marines are going to be operating this aircraft out of _fixed, full length runway, bases ashore_ because that’s where all the gas, bombs and deep maintenance gear all sit!!
    You don’t have to remove the wing to change the F135 engine like you do on a Harrier and you don’t have to inject methanol water to up the thrust while pitting the blades in VL mode like the Harrier does. So _of course_ it’s cheaper ‘by the hour’ on maintenance.
    The real question then becomes why the F-35B is so much more expensive to operate than the F-35A, not why it is _totally different_ from the direct thrust, no auto-hover, plumbing nightmare, that is the AV-8B!

    Hello, GAO?
    I’d like to report a hold up of the U.S. Treasury in progress! Yeah, those JSF bandits are pillaging the exchequer again. I think I heard one of them say ‘Sempre Fi Mac’…
    When I say Whoa, I mean stop the robbery.

  • Mithat

    That’s a great process for F-35Bs but what about the others? We(Turkey) would buy 116+18 F-35A’s but due to increasing costs we reduced it 100 F-35s. On the other hand delivery date is always being delayed. I hope our F-35 hopes don’t touch to bottom. Meantime you can have a look at some cool F-35 photos :
    F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Pictures

  • squidgod_the_unbannable_2.0

    “By combing through the assumptions — some of them deeply questionable — undergirding the Defense Department’s official cost estimates for the F-35B and refining them, the Marines say the plane should cost 16.6 percent less per flight hour than the current estimate.”

    To be fair, I’m sure the Marines are making some assumptions of their own.

  • SS BdM Fuhress ‘Savannah

    Marines send me the bill, I’ll fund maybe a washer on 1. What a couple of 100 dollars? The military is going to break the bank. Then foreign countries will come for the empty bank. That is a good looking plane though. $30,000 and hour. We better come up with a Super-Lightning version of Blitzkreig. A couple of hours and the conflict won or we are in trouble. How much space can we cover in 2 hours with a 1,000 of those not using nukes? Took a 100 hours to beat Saddam. China and Russia on what level compared to Saddam? We better learn Peace and sharing the world with the Big 2! That’s the only real answer isn’t it?

  • Weaponhead

    I am skeptical of anything that comes out of the JPO. Their track record is 0% so far so why should I belive this? They are in a full court press to make F-35 not look like a total diaster. So they are sharpening pencils and making new assumptions to make things look better. That’s ok if it really is true but like I said their track record is for misleading everyone into thinking the program is wonderful time and time again.
    So is the CAPE report available or do we just have to take the JPO’s word on these false assumptions by CAPE. I think Christine Fox has a lot more credibility than anyone in the JPO. So consider the source(s).

  • Weaponhead

    http://www.defense-aerospace.com/cgi-bin/client/modele.pl?shop=dae&modele=feature&prod=147327&cat=5

    Analysis: Lower F-35 Operating Costs Should Be Taken with A Pinch of Salt
    (Interesting article on this topic worth reading at link above)

    • TerryTee

      Great article, with very reasonable assumptions. If the Marines are going to be using the F-35B 90% of the time on conventional runways, why is the STOVL mode the main reason they need it???? Also if true, I guess we don’t need to buy any more of those “Gray Floaty ” things that require “STOVL Operations ONLY”. Since all they need is Conventional Runways for 90% of their Operations.

      Also why has Jennifer Elzea from CAPE ( cost-assessment
      office ) not changed their findings?

      Could it be that because South Korea dumped the “Junk Strike Fighter” because it cost to much $$$$ to buy and operate and LM needs S. Korea to buy those 60 aircraft to get prices down because of the other countries that have cut back on their orders ( Italy & UK ) and Congress is cutting back on number of Aircraft bought in 2015?

      • JimBobJoe

        I’m with everyone (except the lobbyists) on the cost part, and firmly believe that if John Wayne was around today, he would act according to patriotic duty and just cold-cock the responsible LM executive(s) publicly. The video would go viral and there would be more thumbs up/votes than any other video in the history of the internet among the 40+ demographic, and millions of signatures would be collected to petition the president for a pardon.

        However, I do believe STOVL is critical at the onset of a conflict when runways have been rendered unusable because they’ve been hit with missiles/cratering munitions, etc. And that, more than any other time, is when there is a critical need for STOVL.

        The S. Koreans could very well just be engaging in gamesmanship to extract price concessions out of LM, but part of me just wants LM to be rejected to teach them a lesson.

        Like the F-16, which has evolved from the F-16A all the way through to the Block 60, the F-35 will improve. I just hope some day it merits it’s price.

        • Big G

          That made sense for the RAF’s Harriers in Germany.

          Your example makes sense for advanced air force bases near front line, but not at all in a Marine expeditionary mission.

  • Terrance

    I read a summary in the G2mil blog that referenced an Aviation Week article about how the Marines are lowering the cost per flight hour. General Schmidle was quoted saying that the F-35 simulator is so good, it lessens the need for pilot flight training, so these sim hours are counted as actual flight hours and used to lower the CPFH.

  • ELPs

    No working mission system till date, No rover capability, No pilot that is not on Lockheed payroll, No Nothing, Less stealth the Super Hornet Mega – You can’t make this stuff Up…The Just So Fail, Must get this program to fail. Let me get another bag of chips while i sit in Australia and use by lack of experience to tear the Just so fail to shreds.

  • OMEGATALON

    Almost every aspect of the F-35 is leading edge technology and this means extra cost; but as the technologies used mature as well as manufacturing techniques improve, the cost to build and operate the F-35 will drop.