Politicians and policymakers seldom understand the technology used in cutting-edge weapons, but they usually think they know what the price-tag will be. On close inspection, though, it turns out they don’t understand the price-tag either — not just what a weapon will cost, but why. So it is with the Pentagon’s biggest weapon program, the tri-service F-35 fighter. The government’s cost estimates for acquiring and operating the planes keep rising, but not for the reasons most critics think. Development problems attributable to the contractor only account for about 40% of the increase in estimated acquisition costs since the program’s inception, and maybe 20% of the increase in estimated operating costs. The rest of the increases come from other sources, especially government-directed changes in the scope of the program and methodology for making cost estimates. When you strip away all the cost factors which were not caused by prime contractor Lockheed Martin, the program looks like it is in much better shape than many observers realize. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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