Does anyone still know how much an F35 will cost?

On June 14, 2012, F-35B Joint Strike Fighter test aircraft BF-2 completed the first test flight for the short takeoff and vertical landing variant with an asymmetric weapons load. BF-2 flew with an AIM-9X Sidewinder inert missile on the starboard pylon, a centerline 25 mm gun pod, and a GBU-32 and AIM-120 in the starboard internal weapon bay.

This is another one of those ‘one from the archive’ posts.

In April 2009 I asked the question;

The points I raised in this 2009 post were;

  • Complex major projects like the F35 have a tendency to be more expensive, arrive late and not fall short of the promised capability so unless the scale of these three factors becomes so overwhelming we should almost expect and not worry about them.
  • That the cost will dictate the final purchased quantities, obvious I know
  • The F35B was by far the most pragmatic choice for the UK
  • Industrial concerns will drive many decisions on equipment capabilities and quantities
  • The likely numbers will be in the 50 ballpark
  • For the stretched armed forces, it is not brilliant value for money

So looking back, were those points valid?

I think most of them still hold true although I think the value for money might be OK for the MoD, the bargain of the century for the nation and rather bad news for the the future of defence aerospace in the UK.

Unless we get onto the FCAS road with some vigour the strategically valuable defence aerospace industry in the UK will be under threat (the same defence aerospace industry that makes a fortune for the UK)

The programme continues to mature but the original goal of being low cost seems increasingly out of reach. As long as we maintain balance across all three services I don’t think the F35 is the disaster it is often claimed to be.

I was then, and remain, a cautious optimist.

To answer the main question, we don’t know and won’t know until the NAO updates its Major Projects report, and even then, expect the unit cost to be shrouded in ‘commercially sensitive’ caveats.

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