Captain Obvious? Is that you?

I’m sure this comes as no surprise, but the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is expensive. Very expensive. So expensive that, according to one estimate, the money spent on the program could buy every homeless person in the U.S. a $600,000 mansion (Not that this would be sound fiscal policy, but I digress). But a new cost estimate tags the per-unit cost at up to $337 million apiece, depending on the model.

Winslow Wheeler, a staff member at the Project On Government Oversight, is a respected defense analyst and longtime critic of the F-35. According to his cost estimates, the Air Force’s F-35A conventional take off and landing (CTOL) variant will run $148 million/unit, a Marine Corps. F-35B short-take off and vertical-landing (STOVL) jet will cost $251 million, and a single Navy F-35C barrier-based jet will cost a whopping $337 million.

Years behind schedule and chronically over-budget, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has turned into a parody of itself — a bloated government program and the textbook definition of “requirements creep.” The most expensive weapons acquisition program in the history of the world was meant to be a “jack of all trades” (and master of none), replacing numerous legacy fighters, and becoming the backbone (and sole member) of America’s tactical aviation fleet for decades to come.

Pictured: The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

And now we’re stuck with a $1 trillion dollar turkey that doesn’t come close to fulfilling its original requirements and won’t survive a dogfight with advanced Russian and Chinese jets. We’ve committed a fortune and subordinated our entire fleet to one figurative Swiss Army Knife. And with so much money flushed down the toilet, we’re probably past the point of no return.

An average unit cost of $178 million hurts. But it gets worse. “These are just the production costs,” Wheeler says. “Additional expenses for research, development, test and evaluation are not included.”

And there’s this gem — “The unit costs of the Marines’ short-takeoff, vertical-landing B-model and the Navy’s aircraft-carrier-capable C-model are growing.”


Back in 2012, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report noted that unit costs per aircraft have doubled since start of development in 2001, for a lifecycle price tag of $1.1 trillion. And much of this has been deferred to future years. The DoD hasn’t reduced total procurement quantities, but for 3 straight years, it’s lowered near-term procurement figures.

The DoD knows we’re chest-deep in a defense-procurement quagmire, and they’re passing off a substantial portion of the bill to future generations.

The Joint Strike Fighter stands to become the most expensive mistake in American military history.