Enough Of Saying The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Is Too Expensive

Enough Of Saying The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Is Too Expensive

A few years back, during a Red Flag combat exercise, a single F-35 was able to locate, identify, and eliminate an entire squadron of opposing planes without being spotted. Several people who support the F-35 and high-ranking Air Force officials got to witness the jet’s operational impact in a battle zone for the first time because of this occasion.

The war game represented one of the first key occasions that an F-35 fully functioned as intended or imagined in a massive high-power warfare scenario with advanced adversaries and 5th-generation enemy aircraft in a high-power warfare circumstance. 

The F-35 in a more prominent role

It also served to address an essential question about the F-35. What if – operating within a series of complex interlocking threat and attack vector variables in a major war in the midst of escalating threats – a small group of F-35s could carry out a series of missions with massive high-risk weapons to quickly reach war objectives and avoid a protracted and highly lethal war? Precisely targeted precision strikes could accomplish more than a slow ground war strategy.

Cost analysts and F-35 detractors might realize the high cost of the F-35 program should a small number of F-35s quickly achieve a major, high-impact war outcome, thereby avoiding the need for prolonged operations with a high number of casualties.

Could existing F-35s save the Pentagon money?

An interesting 2020 Mitchell Institute policy paper, “Resolving America’s Defense Strategy-Resource Mismatch,” argues that F-35 acquisition and maintenance costs, when considered part of an overall cumulative operating cost equation, actually result much cheaper than current critics understand.

Conclusions of the document on the F-35

The ruling, according to Mitchell’s document, is procedural. The document maintains that the methods and criteria used to determine the costs and affordability of the F-35 have not been accurate.

Mitchell’s major point is that stealth aircraft can save money when looking at mission goals and success rates, but we need better measurements to show just how much.

“If superior technologies and design allow the F-35s to ensure mission effects that would otherwise require multiple less capable (and higher risk) aircraft, then the F-35s will really add value across many dimensions of the warfare system. 

Larger conflict… For future investments, the study adds, the definition of “cost” should focus less on particular technologies and more on the corporate resources required to meet mission objectives.

The existing Air Force fleet consists of 81% 4th-generation aircraft and only 19% 5th-generation aircraft, raising the topic of fleet percentages.

What does this mean in operational terms?

In the case of deployment and availability, if aircraft were suddenly needed for urgent missions, 4th generation platforms would make up the bulk of what is available, depending on forward base and readiness.

Would using a larger number of Generation 4 aircraft for longer duration and riskier missions ultimately prove more costly than simply deploying a small group of the necessary F-35s? Depending on the operational requirements of a mission, this could be the case.

Shouldn’t this kind of equation be of primary consideration amid the ongoing discussions of F-35 cost assessments, production plans, and 5th Generation fleet sizing?

A solution to the costs of the F-35

The Mitchell study proposes an alternate cost metric or analysis method to address some of the pressing problems surrounding F-35 costs as part of an effort to explain those costs. The document advocates a “cost by effect” analysis model to discern aircraft costs.

The “cost per effect” is an evaluation measure that allows assessing the “business case” that underlies the compared technologies from the operational point of view of the effectiveness of the business mission and fiscal efficiency, and not only the lower initial cost per unit of a piece of equipment that may only address one facet of the kill chain,” the document says.

In terms of a numerical breakdown, Mitchell’s paper says hourly operating costs for an F-35 are in the $35,000 range. In contrast, a 2021 Defense News report says F-15EX operating costs are approximately $29,000 per hour, and an estimate by Jane’s puts the F/A-18‘s hourly operating costs at $24,000.

Based on this available information, it does appear that the F-35’s operating costs per hour are slightly higher than its 4th generation counterparts; however, what happens when looking at an overall cost evaluation metric taking performance into account? , operational use, and mission effectiveness?

Desert Storm Analysis

The study analyzed the initial Desert Storm airstrikes many years ago, looking specifically at what assets and resources were required to achieve the mission objective, using the “cost per effect” assessment model.

According to the conclusions, 41 aircraft were needed to carry out sweep and escort missions, suppress enemy air defenses, and then the actual bombing raids.

However, using stealth platforms, the analysis concluded that only 20 aircraft were needed.


Overall, mission operating expenses could be decreased since stealth aircraft could achieve the same results while being far more efficient and effective. More importantly, the use of stealth greatly improves survivability, which means that the pilots doing the strike missions have a much better chance of surviving.