The F-35’s Hidden Sticker Shock

The F-35’s Hidden Sticker Shock, by David Archibald.

The warplane already comes with an extraordinary price tag, but that is only the start of the drain this gold-plated hangar queen will impose on our defence budget. Beyond that, we’ll be paying Lockheed Martin for access to the “intellectual property” needed to get it airborne (every now and then). …

That something is rotten in the state of the F-35 program office is Figure 6 on page 25 of the GAO report which shows the minimum performance targets negotiated between the F-35 Joint Program Office and the Prime Contractor (Lockheed Martin) with the Marine Corps’ desired targets for 2017:

The first column is the proportion of F-35Bs that can get into the air. The Marine Corps’ modest desire was that two thirds of their aircraft be able to fly on any given day. The F-35 program office signed with Lockheed Martin for 46% availability. The actual result was 52.3%. The next column is the most important as it shows the proportion of the F-35B fleet that are able to go to war. Once again the Marine Corps’ ambition was modest with a desire that at least 60 percent of their aircraft would be able to do that. But the F-35 program office signed with Lockheed Martin for only a minimum of 14% to be so capable.

They must have known something because the actual performance in 2017 was 14.9%. Mission effectiveness is the percentage of time that the F-35 components and mission systems affected the successful completion of each assigned mission. The actual result for that metric in 2017 was 79.9%. Applying the mission effectiveness rate to the full mission capable rate means that fewer than one in eight F-35Bs in inventory could successfully complete a mission. …

Australia should also be looking at its options. Our F-18As are getting clapped out. Even if they were brand new, they would be outclassed by the Su-35s that Indonesia is buying. One third of our Super Hornets are set up for electronic warfare and the rest are really only light bombers. If the F-35s we ordered do turn up in quantity, they will only be able to get in the air occasionally, and unreliably.

Right at the moment the Swedish air force has 60 Gripen C and Ds, with plenty of time left on the clock, which are fated to be scrapped for parts for new-build Gripen Es. If we asked nicely, the Swedes might sell us those at near to scrap value and we could plug the enormous hole in our air force that is coming, at least as an interim measure. But for that to happen, someone in our polity would have to care.