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Rebutting Aviation Week on the Actual Cost of an F35

RE:  So How Much Does an F35 Actually Cost?

One thing a blogger enjoys about as much anything is when someone else unwittingly ends up making the point he blogged about.  Such is the case with the F-35 cost post I put up this week.  And who made the case for me?  Bill Sweetman – a blogger for the ARES blog at Aviation Week.

Sweetman is a critic of the F-35 program.  And, it is clear who he is writing about when he opens with this, in a post entitled “F-35 cost: A Bit of Reality”, a day after the F-35 post appeared here.

There is an unusual amount of utter bilge being talked about Joint Strike Fighter costs …

Hmmm, wonder who he’s talking about?  A couple of paragraphs later, it becomes clear:

(Blogger BlackFive, for some reason, thinks that APUC includes lifetime O&S costs, and goes off to draw some predictably inaccurate conclusions.)

I do?  I challenge Mr. Sweetman to back up that claim.  Nowhere in the post do I even mention O&S costs.  In fact the only place you’ll find O&S is on the chart included in the post to clarify what Mr. Sweetman would seeminly prefer remained murky.  

One can only conclude that Mr. Sweetman doesn’t know how to read the chart, but O&S is clearly listed under “Life Cycle Costs” there.

Sweetman then proceeds to do exactly what I talked about in the post.  He throws all sorts of numbers around with no context.  For instance:

The average procurement unit cost for the USAF F-35A, over the planned 1,763-aircraft run, is about $125 million (page 29).

What does the “average procurement unit cost” include? He doesn’t bother to tell you.  Without the chart, or unless you’re intimately familiar with the procurement process and what it entails, you won’t the foggiest idea, will you.  But he’s now established a cost which has no comparative relevance in the discussion of 4th and 5th generation fighters.

By that I mean the critics will use that cost to trot out the old “we could buy two 4th generation aircraft for that price” argument.   Of course they’re using the unit recurring flyaway cost (URC) for the 4th gen fighter (they have no idea what the APUC is for those aircraft and if they do, they don’t use it) and a completely different cost for the F-35 (in this case APUC).

Something like, “Well Bill Sweetman at ARES says the F-35 costs $125 million (APUC) a copy and a F/A 18 only costs $55 million (URF) so we could buy two of them for every one F-35”.  Apples and pomegranates.  

And of course, that was the entire point of my post.

My thanks to Mr. Sweetman and the ARES blog for helping me make the point about as well as it could be made.  I'm no accountant and was just trying to be extremely clear about costs.

Much appreciated.