The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the most expensive military weapons program in human history. But what does that mean? If you factor in the full cost of maintaining a fleet of aircraft for 56 years, the price of an individual fighter is more than $670 million. That’s literally worth more than its weight in gold.
A March Government Accountability Office report offered a different tabulation: “If F-35 procurement plans remain unchanged and developmental testing continues into 2018, the cost risks associated with concurrency will likely increase as DOD expects to have invested $83.4 billion in 459 aircraft by that point in time.” Some $83 billion spread over 459 aircraft works out to around $180 million per plane. Lockheed Martin, the aircraft’s manufacturer, says it can get the cost down to about $85 million per plane by 2019 as it fills more orders.
The F-35 as an aircraft and defense program has been widely criticized for its cost overruns and growing price tag. But as a unit of speculative currency, it’s more interesting. Consider it this way: What other technologies could the military buy for the cost of a single F-35, using GAO’s March estimate?