NewsF-35 maintenance costs soar, Pentagon considers cheaper alternatives

F‑35 maintenance costs soar, Pentagon considers cheaper alternatives

F-35 fighter jet in action
F-35 fighter jet in action
Images source: © East News | Claire Hartley/Bav Media/Shutter

6:01 AM EDT, May 25, 2024, updated: 10:33 AM EDT, May 25, 2024

The costs of maintaining the F-35 are increasing at an alarming rate. Even Americans were unprepared for this and pondered how to address the issues. The Pentagon is considering acquiring another inexpensive fighter jet that could replace the F-35.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office, the American equivalent of Poland's Supreme Audit Office, has published a report that offers little optimism to the users of the multi-role F-35 Lightning II aircraft.

The auditors noted that "projected costs for sustaining the F-35s have continued to rise from $1.1 trillion in 2018 to $1.58 trillion five years later (a 44% increase)." Officials estimate that these costs will increase even further in the coming years.

The authors of the report wrote that Department of Defense officials essentially agree that efforts are unlikely to fundamentally change the estimated operating costs of the aircraft.

Fewer hours, higher cost

Auditors pointed out that extending the operational time by 11 years to 2088 or using the aircraft less frequently will not help. The poorly configured training and technical support system is failing. There is a lack of spare parts for inoperative aircraft, and repairs are not being carried out on time.

The Pentagon reported that only 54 percent of F-35As were capable of conducting operations a year ago. This year, the percentage has dropped to 52 percent. The Pentagon considers a level of 64 percent combat-ready aircraft to be acceptable.

The aircraft's maintenance costs have also significantly increased despite the Pentagon considerably reducing the annual flight hours. Initially, it was assumed that they would total 382,000 hours, and the cost of maintaining the aircraft during this time would reach $4.1 million. After six years, the flight hours were reduced, and they now total 300,000 hours, with the maintenance cost rising to $6.8 million per aircraft.

More time in workshops

Congressional committees have been wondering for years how to reduce the rapidly rising costs of operating the F-35. Initially, there were problems with the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine. Due to unplanned high-pressure turbine replacements, the engines operated for shorter periods than expected.

Additionally, the aircraft spent more time in workshops and stayed there significantly longer than initially assumed. Annual reports noted that the Pentagon had almost entirely become dependent on Lockheed Martin, the aircraft manufacturer. Auditors have called for greater oversight of cooperation rules so the military significantly impacts the program.

Pentagon's move

For this reason, the Pentagon is slowly implementing the conclusions from the "TacAir" study, which focuses on the possibility of acquiring an inexpensive fighter jet that could replace the F-16 and, above all, the F-35 in performing the simplest tasks that do not require the use of complicated and expensive machines.

The United States Air Force (USAF) has revealed that it is interested in such a concept and may consider replacing older F-16s with light F-7 fighters.

The Boeing F-7 is based on the T-7A Red Hawk trainer, which is being introduced into the Air Force as a primary training aircraft.

Additionally, the costs of maintaining the aircraft must be considered. Annually, this is a minimum of $217.6 million. And these costs will rise. American auditors noted that most of the increase in maintenance costs is due to inflation.

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