Senators Demand an Explanation After the F-35 Savings Estimate Is Off By $600 Million

The Senate asks the Pentagon's F-35 program to explain its sizable discrepancy in savings estimates.


Qian Baihua/SIPA ASIA/SIPA/Newscom

The Pentagon's F-35 Joint Program Office is facing scrutiny from Congress after reports of its purported savings were found to be more than a little inflated. The Office had claimed that it would be saving over a $1 billion in parts by buying in bulk, as Bloomberg reports:

Program office officials sought and won congressional approval last year to spend $661 million as a down payment on parts for 207 U.S. aircraft to be purchased in 2019 and 2020. The pitch was that this would save $1.2 billion for the U.S. and allies that buy the [F-35] fighter, split evenly.

The savings were supposedly verified by in-house evaluators at the Department of Defense (DOD). However, DOD's own Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) found the number to be much smaller in a report requested by Sen. John McCain (R–Ariz.), who serves as chair on the Senate Armed Services Committee. In fact, the new savings estimate comes out to about $600 million.

After learning of the discrepancy, the Senate Appropriations Committee gave the F-35 program 30 days to explain the hundreds of millions in lost savings.

"The difference between the levels of projected savings is a function of programmatic changes and differing cost model assumptions," argued program spokesperson Joe DellaVedova.

The F-35 program has long been criticized for its massive cost overruns. In 2011, The Atlantic once criticized a plan to purchase 2,443 of the fighter jets at $382 billion a pop (a price tag totalling $1 trillion) as being more expensive than the GDP of Australia.

Since that time, costs for the program have only risen higher and deadlines have only been pushed back.

In a report about the use of illegal Chinese parts in the aircraft's construction, Reason's Nick Gillespie gives some perspective on the pricey project:

Oh yeah, and while we wait for the GAO report to hit the newsstands, suck on this: The United States already accounts for fully 40 percent of the planet's spending on military and defense spending rose by 80 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars between 2001 and 2012. And somewhere in Arizona is a military aircraft graveyard packed with over $35 billion (with a b!) in never-used and nearly-new planes.

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  1. Look, you ignorant rubes. We need those jets to save us from IEDs planted by third-world dirt farmers halfway around the globe!

    1. Needs more “why do you hate America”.

    2. You mean so they can bomb the farmers and make them ‘refugees’ so they can move next door and vote us into LIBERTOPIA!

  2. “You only wasted that much? We waste more than that by lunch time every day! Even more when we’re in session!”

    1. Jeff Sessions: “Whoa, hey, I don’t swing that way.”

      1. Lindsey Graham: “Not what I heard.”

  3. . . . 2,443 of the fighter jets at $382 billion a pop (a price tag totalling $1 trillion) . . .

    That total is closer to 100 trillion. I suspect you mean 382 *million* a pop (382,000,000) – which is closer to what fighters cost (but still pretty damn high) and further from, you know, *the cost of all the aircraft carriers combined*.

    1. I wondered at that myself, since no one in their right mind would buy a plane for 382 billion unless it came with a Death Star laser. And by ‘no one in their right mind’ I also include the DoD. Yes, not even they are quite this stupid.

      1. What if no Death Star Laser but did turn into a giant fighting robot? We could recoup the cost by selling them by the boatload to Japan.

    2. It is really $382 billion for all 2,443 fighters, which works out to around $156 million each. Add in an additional $650 billion for maintenance, and you get to a little over a trillion dollars.

      Of course, that if before future cost overruns.

      A trillion here, a trillion there and soon you’re talking serious money.

    3. So not only does the Reason author not check their writing, there is no pre-publication editing/fact checking. Really expect better.

  4. Give me the A-10 with that 30 millimeter cannon on the nose for $18 million instead. If ground attack is the role, I’d rather have 21 of those than one F-35.

    1. You mean the most badass ground support plane that the USAF keeps trying to kill? It boggles my mind why the defense contractors don’t have Warthog 2.0 plans ready to show the brass and instead keep pitching these stupid Buck Rogers wanna-be aircraft.

      1. It boggles my mind why the defense contractors don’t have Warthog 2.0 plans ready to show the brass and instead keep pitching these stupid Buck Rogers wanna-be aircraft.

        I refuse to believe that anyone here, even Tony, would be boggled by the idea that Defence Contractors aren’t bothering to come up with plans for a cheap plane that the brass won’t buy, in favor of coming up with plans for the absurdly expensive planes that the brass does want to spend money on.

        1. Give me a little credit, I have at least two functioning neurons, that’s twice as many as Tony.

          The BEST defense contractor would have both Warthog 2.0 AND over-priced & never-going-to-work-as-promised stealth aircraft for upteen gazillion dollars.

        2. It’s less about the brass and more about congress. No congresscriiter will vote against a weapons system if the contractor promises jobs in its district. (Not that the brass isn’t usually willing to play along; you don’t get to wear stars if you don’t know your way around politics.) Systems that can be produced cheaply, with a limited labor force, don’t buy nearly as many votes. We don’t have a “defense” budget; we have a MIC budget.

      2. Because one can be built for a known price with a decent margin and the other is a blank check.

        1. “Cost plus pricing”, they call it.

      3. Since the Air Force doesn’t want the A10, transfer it to the Army. I’m an Air Force veteran, but splitting it from the Army may have been a mistake – and giving it dedicated close support aircraft was definitely a mistake.

    2. Yep, the A-10, the F-15/16/22, and the F/A 18 should all still be fine to handle anything any other government might throw our way. But politicians think engineers can make an all-around airframe that can handle specified missions as well as jets designed specifically for each purpose. Morons. I wouldn’t put it past them to shell out $382 billion apiece in someone else’s money to try to see their grand vision come to fruition.

      1. When will they break out the Black Triangles and the Torsion Field Disruptors?

      2. Did you see that one mock-up of a Chinese stealth plane?

      3. They could also buy more drones for under $20 million each.

        The General Atomics Avenger has a cruise speed of 402 mph, endurance of 18 hours, and a weapons payload of 6,500 pounds. They can carry Hellfire missiles, 250 lb bombs, 500 lb bombs, 1000 lb bombs, or 2000 lb bombs.

        Of course, they can’t dogfight or shoot down other planes, but you can buy 7 of them for the price of of 1 F-35, and you don’t have to train or pay on on-board pilot.

        1. Well, in all likelihood, the F35 will be the last manned fighter the US will make.

          IIRC drones have their issue too…trouble flying in bad weather, susceptible to jamming and connection issues…not to mention the Chinese will for sure target our satellites if we ever had to engage them.

          I think one idea is for the F35 to just be a sensor platform, leading an array of drones to do the actual enemy engagements.

          1. Another option would be peace.

      4. Not true. Within the next ~10 years or so China will be able to challenge even the F35. The planes you list above are already on the brink of obsolescence if not beyond it. They will not be a deterrent. I’ll say they the best way to avoid conflict is to have a highly credible deterrent.

        Moreover, the F35 is not the first all around fighter we’ve made. The Corsair and the F4 especially were used by multiple services. The F4 was very successful. The F35 was probably the most economical way to get an advanced fighter for all the services, though I wish they had skipped the Marine VTOL version. Despite its acquisition problems etc etc I think the fighter itself will prove to be very successful.

        Moreover, when comparing plane prices, you appear to be mixing acquisition costs and maintenance together.

        1. You’re forgetting the F-111, which was pretty much a failure. Although, a far less expensive one than the F-35.

          Of course, another option would be peace.

          1. I was just illustrating that a multi-role, multi-service striker fighter is not automatically the wrong approach. Indeed, I don’t know how we’d afford to NOT take this approach. Everyone gives the F35 grief, but if each of the services had their own individual procurement program, the cost would be even worse.

            On peace, well, no shit. I don’t get what point you are making. Unilateral disarmament ?

            1. Unilateral non-aggression.

    3. You won’t want A-10s when they all get shot down.

      I am puzzled by Reason readers. They don’t want us mucking around in 3rd world shitholes, and just want a military for deterrent. Ok, thats what the F35 is. The unfortunate reality is that the A-10, awesome as it is, won’t survive long against any near peer adversaries. It mostly useful against 3rd world-ish adversaries who lack sophisticated AA.

      Even in the 3rd world shitholes we DO bomb, most CAS heaving lifting has been done by B-1s, which are faster, can loiter longer, and carry a lot more bombs. I have a soft spot for the A-10 too, but it amounts to an emotional reaction not one based on the realities of modern war.

  5. So, are these “Enso rings” jewelry or cock rings? I don’t want to click on the ad.

    1. I googled it, and they’re silicon rings for jewelry.

    2. Why are you getting ads for rings and I’m getting ads for Depends?

      1. Psst. Over here.
        You want some Adblock, or do you want to be dupe your whole life?

      2. If the ring was tight enough you wouldn’t need Depends.

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