Monday, April 25, 2011

F-35 service costs may be more than double Ottawa’s estimate

OTTAWA— The Canadian Press

Another U.S. report suggests the F-35 stealth fighter could cost billions of dollars more to operate than previously thought.

An estimate by a Pentagon cost-analysis unit projects it will cost $915-billion to keep the U.S. fleet of 2,443 jets flying for 30 years.

The document, leaked to Bloomberg News in Washington, forecasts a lifetime maintenance bill of roughly $375-million per aircraft

Alan Williams, a former senior Canadian defence official, says the costs would be comparable for the 65 planes the Conservative government intends to purchase, starting in 2017.

Using the Pentagon numbers, the 65 planes would cost more than $24-billion to maintain over 30 years, well above government estimates.

The cost-analysis group works directly for the U.S. Defence Secretary and challenges the numbers and assumptions of the Pentagon's project offices. It based its projection on the operating costs of the existing fleets of F-18s, F-16s and U.S. Marine Corps Harrier jump jets.

Much of the debate in Canada over the highly automated fighter-bombers has centred on the eye-popping purchase price, which could range between $75-million and $151-million per aircraft, depending upon who is doing the estimate.

But only passing attention has been paid to long-term maintenance and service, which the Conservatives have projected at no more than $7-billion over 20 years.

No one was available at National Defence on Monday to comment on the report.

In a report just before the Harper government was defeated, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page pegged service for the F-35 at $19.5-billion over 30 years – or roughly $301-million per plane.

Mr. Page incurred a furious response from the Conservatives in March for suggesting the overall program could cost taxpayers $29.3-billion, but if the new figures from the Pentagon hold, the price tag could go even higher.

“The Pentagon’s new forecast represents a significant increase even over what the U.S. expected,” said Mr. Williams, who is an outspoken critic of the program. “The simple fact is we just don’t know how much we’ll spend. It just lends more weight to the argument that we should wait.”

Repeated warnings about costs spurred the F-35 project office at the Pentagon to commit last week to a sweeping review of what it will take to maintain the aircraft over the long haul.

The study, ordered by project executive officer Vice-Admiral David Venlet, will look at the design of the aircraft to try and figure out what is driving the costs into the stratosphere.

“The service chiefs look at the estimates of the maintenance cost and it makes their knees go weak,” said Adm. Venlet, according to an April 22 transcript of his remarks. “There is an estimate. We know that is not the right number.”

A second, separate report prepared two years ago by the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command said long-term support could hit $443-billion, but that estimate was in 2002 dollars.

Adm. Venlet said even that is too high.

Mr. Williams said there is a lot of uncertainty in the numbers because the plane is still in development and has no maintenance history

No comments:

Post a Comment