The F-35 stealth jet will need an additional $16 billion worth of upgrades and development, the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee has been told.
The F-35, made by Lockheed Martin, is already the most expensive weapons program of all time. It has now been revealed that the F-35 will need even more cash to stay at the front of fifth-generation fighter pack, Reuters reported.
The costs are part of a strategy to perform incremental software and modernization updates on the fighters, meaning they would not have to be taken out of service for several months at a time. It is estimated that the project will cost a total of $406.5 billion.
The plane has been in production since 2006. The F-35 entered service in 2015 and over 270 are currently deployed. The U.S. Navy, Marines and Airforce all fly the F-35.
The Pentagon eventually plans to purchase as many as 2,400 jets, with another 500 to be bought by U.S. allies.
The F-35 program has been the subject of numerous delays and cost revisions. Even President Donald Trump has taken aim at the project on the basis of the ever-inflating cost of the stealth fighter, which he described as “out of control.” Trump once bragged that the fighter was invisible, saying, “You literally can’t see it. It's hard to fight a plane you can't see.”
The newly revealed upgrade costs would be split between $10.8 billion for software development and $5.4 billion for deploying the updates and other procurement in support of the modernization efforts, said Representative Niki Tsongas, citing the Pentagon.
“This potential cost of $16 billion is an astonishingly high amount and, as far as I am aware, greatly exceeds any cost figures previously provided to Congress,” Tsongas, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said.
Vice Admiral Mathias Winter, who is head of the F-35 Joint Program Office, told a House armed services subcommittee, “Continuous enhancements and improvements will be made to increase capabilities that make the F-35 more lethal and survivable.”
Such improvements will bring the jets to “Block 4,” which represents their maximum potential, Winter explained. The Pentagon said it is not certain that every single F-35 would require this level of modernization.
Winter noted that $3.7 billion of the software costs would be paid for by the F-35’s international buyers, which include the U.K., Italy and the Netherlands. The U.S. would cover the rest, at around $1 billion per year until 2024.
He also said that the $16 billion figure was at the extreme end of the expected cost.
Lockheed Martin and U.S. officials have claimed that there has been some progress on cutting the costs of the program by restructuring production and developing a more cost-effective supply chain.
The lifespan of the F-35 has been extended to 2070, the total cost for which has been estimated at over $1.5 trillion.
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