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The F-35 Stealth Fighter Could Soon Be Much Cheaper

F-35 Cost
CV DT-III CF-03 Flt 343 piloted by CDR Ted Dykman, CF-05 Flt 224 piloted by LCDR Dan Kitts on the USS George Washington on 23 Aug, 2016. Shot by: Michael D. Jackson

Lockheed Martin is hoping to reach an agreement with the Department of Defense regarding the signing of a multi-year performance-based logistics (PBL) contract that the company says would help to reduce its portion of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s cost per flying hour. This comes as Lockheed Martin is projecting its share of those costs to drop by 40 percent by 2025 even before a PBL contract is signed, a trend that the company expects to continue in the future.

PBL contracts look to shift the responsibility for successful outcomes of weapons programs to suppliers while also reducing overall lifecycle costs for those weapon systems. The idea behind a PBL contract is to shift the relationship between the supplier and customer to one focused on outcomes as opposed to transactions; that is, rather than selling weapons systems and spare parts along with maintenance and repairs, suppliers instead focus on delivering the reliability and availability of weapons systems at agreed-upon levels. Since the Department of Defense first began entering into PBL contracts, they have proven to be effective at lowering overall logistics costs incurred by DOD.

Lockheed Martin is now hoping that similar success can be found with a PBL contract for the F-35. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for the F-35, and as such is responsible for roughly 39 percent of the F-35’s sustainment costs – with DOD and engine maker Pratt & Whitney responsible for 50 percent and 11 percent, respectively.

The F-35’s current cost per flight hour stands at roughly $36,000, and Lockheed Martin officials have said that they believe entering into a multi-year PBL contract will help to push that number down to the target cost of $25,000 per flight hour by 2025. Lockheed Martin’s share of the costs has fallen over the years, with Mike Miles of the company’s F-35 Logistics Support unit reporting that it has seen a 44 percent reduction in costs since 2014.

While the company has said that a PBL contract would help to lower the aircraft’s sustainment costs while also improving both the flow of parts and the F-35’s mission capability rates, DOD remains hesitant to enter into a long-term arrangement with a single vendor. DOD’s position could change if nominee for Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall is confirmed by the Senate. Kendall has previously gone on record saying that he believes buying more F-35’s will help to reduce their cost, and has previously been a proponent of PBLs while serving as the Pentagon’s head of acquisition.

While DOD continues to weigh its options, Miles of Lockheed Martin has reported that Congress has indicated support for the PBL idea.

The U.S. Air Force now operates more F-35s than any other fighter aircraft outside of the F-16, and the F-35 has proven itself to be a versatile and effective aircraft.

Written By

Eli Fuhrman is an Assistant Researcher in Korean Studies at the Center for the National Interest and a recent graduate of Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program, where he focusedd on East Asian security issues and U.S. foreign and defense policy in the region.



  1. Howard

    June 7, 2021 at 10:22 am

    The F35 is a colossal , slow motion failure.
    How else to see it when the top leadership in the AF are pushing to restart the F22
    production line as well as buying new F15’s?

  2. RepublicansdestoryingAmerica

    June 7, 2021 at 10:59 am

    The lemon is only effective against third world countries and the USAFs rigged exercises. Against peer advisories
    it always loses during the computer simulations.

  3. Brian Foley

    June 7, 2021 at 11:01 am

    I’m a fan of the F-35. I believe it is going to be one of the best “investments” in USAF air superiority and combat support that we’ve ever made. It’s potential is yet to be seen, but as other systems come on line that can benefit from its amazing capabilities, people will come to admire it…having said that…it may be coincidence but as talk grows of leaving the F-35 program for F-15X and sixth generation aircraft the price comes down. I almost get the feeling that Lockheed Martin just told us that “Hey wait right here while I go talk to the manager and let’s see what we can do about the price. I’ll be right back, but you have to ready to jump on the deal I’m going to get you”.

  4. Iain

    June 7, 2021 at 4:25 pm

    Perhaps the F-35 can be, “parted out” and it’s technology used to retrofit new versions of the proven airframes like the F-15, 16, and 18.

  5. ZivBnd

    June 7, 2021 at 5:15 pm

    The F-35 has had a very rough and long gestation period, but over the past couple years it has shown that it is a VERY effective multi-role aircraft, deadly both air to ground and air to air.
    That having been said, it has some notable flaws, still.
    One, they need to extend the range by at least 25% and they need to do it soon. Either stealthy conformal tanks or, to a lesser extent, adopt the ADVENT/AETP engines that will probably be used in the B-21.
    Two, they need to reduce the cost per hour of flight as the article notes.
    Three, they need to buy enough SideKick weapons carriage systems so that each F-35 wing has enough to create a designated amount of F-35’s as the Air to Air specialists. SideKick can be removed but it takes more time than it is worth.
    Four, the AIM-260 IOC needs to be expedited as much as is possible. (Meteor adoption might be a good idea, as well)
    Five, the MQ-25A needs to go operational ASAP to extend the range of the F-35C a quickly as is possible. It will help the F-35B at times, as well, but it will be primarily for the C. First transfer of fuel from an MQ-25A to an F-18 happened three days ago, so this stuff is happening.

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