The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the most expensive military weapons program in human history. But what does that mean? If you factor in the full cost of maintaining a fleet of aircraft for 56 years, the price of an individual fighter is more than $670 million. That’s literally worth more than its weight in gold.
A March Government Accountability Office report offered a different tabulation: “If F-35 procurement plans remain unchanged and developmental testing continues into 2018, the cost risks associated with concurrency will likely increase as DOD expects to have invested $83.4 billion in 459 aircraft by that point in time.” Some $83 billion spread over 459 aircraft works out to around $180 million per plane. Lockheed Martin, the aircraft’s manufacturer, says it can get the cost down to about $85 million per plane by 2019 as it
fills more orders.
The F-35 as an aircraft and defense program has been widely criticized for its cost overruns and growing price tag. But as a unit of speculative currency, it’s more interesting. Consider it this way: What other technologies could the military buy for the cost of a single F-35, using GAO’s March estimate?
Some of the areas that we don’t commonly associate with big defense but that do represent national security concerns include epidemiology, fresh water availability, energy, global literacy and education, and automation. These also happen to be areas where relatively small investments could yield big returns, particularly for the Defense Department.
It’s an eclectic group, so Government Executive reached out to a wide-ranging thinker for a few back-of-the-envelope
calculations on the cost of a major technological breakthrough in other fields.