Even before President Trump started complaining about the prohibitive cost of the F-35, Congress had already commissioned a study into restarting the F-22’s production line, which if implemented, would lead to F-35 cancellations. The results of the study were recently released, and although they are classified, The War Zone’s Tyler Rogoway covered the entire affair and some tidbits that were leaked:
-Approximately $50 billion to procure 194 additional F-22s
-Total includes an estimate of approximately $7 billion to $10 billion for non-recurring start-up costs and $40.4 billion for aircraft procurement costs
-An estimated cost of $206 million to $216 million per aircraft (the last F-22 produced had a unit cost of $137 million)
The analysis all but confirms what was already stated by Free Market Shooter as well as many other sources; the F-35 (in particular the “A” model) is overpriced garbage that can’t beat the aircraft it was designed to replace in many of its roles. But, there’s more to take away from the report than just a price estimate of restarting the line.
For starters, given the ridiculous price tag of restarting the line (which would undeniably rise far higher after the expected cost overruns are factored in), even after lower than expected estimates, restarting F-22 production is just not worth it. Shockingly, Rogoway could not even get his own numbers right; the “last” F-22 cost $137 million, but that was the same price of the previous 59 F-22s. The “last” one was produced for $90 million, and as Rogoway himself previously stated, follow-on batches were quoted at below $90 million per copy.
Simply put, it would have been cheaper to cancel the F-35A and continue to purchase F-22s, as well as build a modified FB-22 with a larger weapons bay with a higher air-to-ground specialty. This would have left the Air Force with a much more capable inventory, no matter which path they chose for the FB-22.
In addition, the cost estimates themselves show that Lockheed, the Pentagon, and the legislature are still doing everything it can to protect its F-35 program. The price tag is just outside of the realm of feasibility, which keeps the F-35 line rolling. Notice how there is nothing in the report about an F-22 being made available for export, reducing per-unit costs by averaging production restart across more airframes? Of course there isn’t; Lockheed wouldn’t dare threaten existing F-35 sales with a far more capable aircraft that could end up only being marginally more expensive.
Regardless of what has happened in the past, with the F-22 off the table for possible F-35 replacement, the role should go to either keeping existing airframes in service, or possibly building more variants of the F-15, F-16 and F/A-18 for service. This includes keeping A-10 airframes in the inventory, and possibly fielding a newer upgraded version, as it is already the most cost-effective aircraft in the low-tech engagements American continues to find itself in. The Air Force must not make the same shortsighted decision it made with the F-22 with the A-10, regardless of how little they like the aircraft.
While the decision to halt F-22 production was clearly foolhardy, it is in the past, and even though it is nice to have the option to open the line, it does not change the fact that it is not worth the money at the moment, and likely never will be. The design is over 25 years old; it would make even more sense to build something entirely different for the future. In the meantime, cancel as many F-35A jets as possible, and let the suckers abroad who have no other stealth jet alternatives buy them… even if they have little to no need to purchase a stealth strike aircraft over a late-model multi-role fighter jet.
Speaking of suckers…