WASHINGTON, March 31 The estimated acquisition
cost of Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35 fighter jet program
dropped $11.5 billion over the past year, the congressional
Government Accountability Office reported Monday in its annual
report on U.S. arms programs.
The congressional watchdog agency said it now estimates the
Pentagon will spend $332.3 billion over coming decades to
develop the new radar-evading F-35 jet and buy a total of 2,457
aircraft, about 3.3 percent less than last year's estimate.
The new estimate was provided in fiscal year 2014 dollars.
The U.S. Defense Department's current estimate for the cost
of developing and buying the F-35 is $392 billion, measured in
2012 dollars, although that projection may change when the
Pentagon releases its own updated annual report on the
acquisition costs of major weapons programs in mid-April.
It was not immediately clear why the GAO's estimate for the
acquisition cost of the Pentagon's biggest weapons program is so
much lower than the government's own projection, and GAO
officials were not immediately available to comment.
Lockheed is developing three models of the F-35 for the U.S.
military and eight countries that helped fund its development:
Britain, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Turkey, Italy and
Israel and Japan have also placed orders, and South Korea
this month said it also planned to buy the jet. Pratt & Whitney,
a unit of United Technologies Corp, builds the single
engine that powers for the new warplane.
The GAO's annual report on the 80 biggest U.S. weapons
programs said the reduction in the estimated cost of the F-35
program was due "solely to efficiencies found within the
program" since there was no decrease in quantities.
The F-35 program was one of 50 major weapons programs that
saw costs go down a combined $31 billion in 2013, the GAO report
said. It said the remaining 30 weapons programs reported higher
combined cost increases of $43.5 billion.
The GAO reported noted that the U.S. military had already
spent about $35 billion to buy 150 F-35 aircraft. It cited
improvements in production by Lockheed, the prime contractor,
but said the program still faced challenges with software and
potential design changes.
The GAO report said the cost to operate and maintain the
aircraft is estimated at over $1 trillion over the next decades,
but said those estimates may come down as testing progresses and
more concrete information becomes available.
The Pentagon's F-35 program office estimates the overall
cost of operating and maintaining the jets will be closer to
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Eric Walsh)