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 the
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.
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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 $857 billion.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; editing by Eric Walsh)
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