How much is that fighter jet in the window? -

How much is that fighter jet in the window?


Murray Brewster finds a new estimate for the F-35s.

An estimate by a Pentagon cost-analysis unit projects it will cost $915 billion to keep the U.S. fleet of 2,443 jets flying for 30 years. The document, leaked to Bloomberg in Washington, forecasts a lifetime maintenance bill of roughly $375 million per aircraft.

Alan Williams, a former senior Canadian defence official, says the costs would be comparable for the 65 planes the Conservative government intends to purchase, starting in 2017. Using the Pentagon numbers, the 65 planes would cost more than $24 billion to maintain over 30 years, well above Canadian government estimates.


How much is that fighter jet in the window?

  1. Add $200 million per plane to buy it at current prices, that's another $12 billion, for a total of $36 billion.

    Damn that, Kevin Page, wrong again! His estimate was $30 billion.

    • Yeah no kidding. Why do we even have that PBO bum around eh? LOL

      No worries though. The second Harper gets HIS majority he'll ditch Kevin like bad dairy.

  2. I wonder if fighter jets in the early 21st century are the equivalent of battleships circa 1930- they've been made obsolete by new technology (the aircraft carrier/unmanned drones) and the old guard, who lack the vision, are still firmly in control of procurements.

    • Very good analogy.

      Another one . . . horses v. machine guns

    • The problem is that procurement is a misnomer. Industry decides what it wants to market and then lobbies governments to buy. The rotating door between defence department and industry ensures a favourable response.

      There seems to be little or no connection between the role the government articulates for its military and the actual equipment, which is why we're still buying desert gear (and single engine jets) while the government is emphasizing Arctic sovereignty.

  3. Commit to purchase now. Let someone else wory about cost later.

  4. Meanwhile, in some parallel universe where Stephen Harper never existed, Prime Minister Paul Martin is campaigning for his third majority, and the Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance parties are going after the Liberal government on the cost estimates for those F35 jets.

    • I'm not so sure that the Canadian Alliance would argue against the purchase of the F35 jets, though I agree that the F35 planes would have been purchased by the Liberal Party, for the cost they are being purchased for.

      • Hmmm… you're probably right. It would mainly be the Dippers going after the government on the F35s, and perhaps the PCs to a lesser extent.

        • Hey look! an actual dose of experience and common sense by Tedbetts bellow.

      • Almost a decade ago, a committee under Martin's government recommended that the description of the F35 jets back then at the prices quoted seemed to be the best and most cost-effective way for Canada to go. Other countries were suggesting the same thing at the same time. Bush and the US military were pushing them very strongly.

        Would they have stuck to that plan? The UK, Netherlands and others have backed off their initial recommendations, in part because what was told to them about performance, timeline, capabilities and (most importantly) cost have all been off if not way off. In part also because the financial situation of the world has changed. In part because even the US is backing off its original plans. In part because the original intended use doesn't match up with current needs, certainly not Canada's in the north.

        So I doubt very much Martin would still be sticking blindly to his guns on this. The reality is that he, being Martin, would much more likely have dragged out the recommendation and then dropped it, a week after Harper said we needed so we could do whatever the US wanted us to do we needed to do and after polls came out showing how strongly opposed the country is to buying them (as we are now).

  5. This whole thing makes me laugh when the Conservatives complain that other parties haven't costed their platforms properly.

  6. Yes, but can you really put a price on awesome jets? Oh, sorry, it looks like you can.

    • And photos. Don't forget how priceless those photos are going to be.

  7. We live in Canada not the US. Our contracts are not fettered by a pork barrel military industrial complex.

    Purchasing these jets won't hurt nearly as much as some have suggested. When we buy these aircraft in five years the Canadian Forces will have returned from Afghanistan freeing several billion dollars in military spending.

    • "Our contracts are not fettered by a pork barrel military industrial complex"

      Whatever we buy from the US will include a very substantial element of pork, that is how defence procurements get off the ground. With the US buying vast numbers (over 2400, compared to our 65), that is what will drive the sub-contract awards.

      However, the quoted item just talks to the life cycle maintenance cost, and probably underestimates the pork involved, so its likely to be worse than even this.

      • In fact this gov't's decision to buy the F-35 is all about Canadian military-industrial complex pork–the gov't hopes for oodles of it, oodles that will not likely end up being there as almost everyone reduces their F-35 purchases:

        "F-35: Video of Gov't ministers before Commons national defence committee/Real reason for decision Update"

        "Why did the government commit to the F-35? Threats"


    • Doesn't the fact that we live in Canada and not the U.S. actually hurt us on this file, given that American law prohibits exporting U.S. military technology to foreign countries for less than the Americans pay for the same technology?

      This has what has always confused me about the Tory rhetoric on this file. They're trying to tell us that the Americans are going to sell us our F-35s for at least $25 million LESS per plane than they're going to pay themselves. I mean, WHAT?!?!? Not only would I have to be crazy to believe that, I'd also have to ignore the fact that such a deal is prohibited by U.S. law. Unless the Americans are going to break their own laws to give us a deal WAY sweeter than anyone else on the planet is going to get (including the Americans themselves) why should I believe the ridiculous Tory numbers?

      • Loss leaders my friend. After all it's all about marketing these days, no?

        This kind of purchase is frankly obscene when we still have folks in Aboriginal communities living ten to a room and boiling their water.

  8. I suppose we'll need manned fighter in the event that

    a) Skynet attempts to take over or

    b) Laurie Hawn has something to fly on Independence day when THEY come and attack Earth.

    • I can't see Laurie Hawn punching and alien in its "jaw(?)".

  9. .
    "30"… years!? THIRTY?! For those who find my writing overly cryptic or elliptical:

    Those jets will probably be worthless by 2017, and certainly worthless by 2020.

    20th century bows and arrows from the slick-talking American military-industrial complex. We've been conned.

    I'm grateful for small mercies: Mr. Ignatieff didn't agree about the F-35s.

    But I'm hoping the NDP will truly grasp the full dimensions of the delusion.

  10. Apples to apples, the Americans believe they're going to spend significantly more per F-35A then we supposedly are, and I'd like a better explanation from the Harper Government as to just how we're going to pay less than the Americans for these jets given that American law prohibits selling military technology to foreign countries for less than the Americans pay themselves. I believe the actual explanation is "We pulled our cost estimates out of our a55es, and they in no way reflect what Canada is actually going to end up paying in the end" but I'd like someone to be confronted with the question and be forced to try to avoid accidentally saying that out loud.

  11. FYI, The U.S. Air Force puts the per-jet cost of the F-35A (the one we're getting) at $122 million. Harper would have you believe we're getting the same plane for less than $80 million each.

    The only explanation I've seen for that difference is the notion of late that Harper's been talking all this time about the cost of the planes WITHOUT ENGINES.

    • What's your assessment of the F18E as an alternative that Canada could pursue? For the same amount of money, we might actually be able to get almost twice the number of aircraft.

      • I think it depend on where we're going with the Air Force. I note that 65 fighters is about as low as an ir force could go without being laughed at (it's barely three active squadrons worth) so I'm not actually sure that anyone is actually interested in more planes. I think the plan is for these 65 planes to be the last 65 fighters the Canadian Forces ever buy, and that we'll move rapidly towards unmanned fighters in the future. It's the only explanation I can come up with for a conservative government reducing our fighter force by almost 20%.

        Now, even in that scenario one might say "Let's get 65 Super Hornets anyway, and save the extra dough for even MORE UAVs in the future" and I think there's an argument to be made for that. There's probably still an argument to be made that if we're just going to have one last, small, elite force of manned fighters we might as well make the last hurrah up of the most advanced fighters available (or, if we can't get those, the F-35). I think arguments can be made on both sides, but we don't know enough about what DND's plans are, and no one really wants to talk about it, they just want to use the F-35 purchase plan to blugeon each other over the head (either as troop haters or money wasters).

        To me, the most interesting part of the debate right now is that the Tories are still INSISTING that we're going to get these planes in 2016 for $75 million a pop, despite the fact that the AMERICAN Air Force says they're going to cost $122 million a pop and that the AMERICANS might not get them until 2018. I don't think anyone has sufficiently explained how it's possible that we're buy 65 F-35s from the Americans and get them at a 40% discount, two years before the USAF. If that's really true, then 1) why haven't we signed that super sweet contract yet, and 2) whay aren't we asking if they might throw in a couple of aircraft carriers for half price too?

        • Of course no-one, including the US gov't, knows what operational F-35As will cost; LockMart will not sign any contract with our government, at the price(s) our gov't is spouting, since LM does not want to lose money. Plus they cannot sell to us cheaper than they can, eventually, to the USAF. All from our gov't on costs is codswallop.

          To put it another way, why does our gov't not sign a contract with LM right now until 2013-14, the current plan? Because LM will not sign a contract now when they do not know the cost of the blinking thing.


  12. "Alan Williams, a former senior Canadian defence official, says the costs would be comparable for the 65 planes the Conservative government intends to purchase, starting in 2017. Using the Pentagon numbers, the 65 planes would cost more than $24 billion to maintain over 30 years, well above Canadian government estimates."

    Alan Williams also stated on CBC that the product that Canada will purchase (standard take-off and landing) is the cheapest of the 3 types of F35 and will likely cost about $130 M at mid-production cycle.

    $130 M x 65 planes = $8.45 Billion.

    Add $24B for maintenance over 30 yrs = $32.45 Billion or $1.08 Billion/yr (pretty close to PBO numbers by Kevin Page)

    The government has predicted $16 Billion over 20 yrs or $0.8 Billion/yr.

    This amounts to a difference of $280 million/yr for purchase and maintenance of the entire fleet of planes. Like any machinery, it is likely that the planes get more expensive to maintenance as they age, which one can argue, if they are non-partisan, might account for the difference in costing over a 20 yr vs 30 yr program.

    Perhaps Wherry, the intrepid reporter, could provide us with the current maintenance costs of our present F18 fleet, some of which are doing service in Libya at the moment because of a UNANIMOUS vote in parliament.

    For those who ask what the F35 might possibly be used for in the future, I have no idea. But, I wonder if you could point out a single suggestion from 6 months ago, or even 3 months ago, suggesting that our jets might be doing bombing runs in the middle-east.

  13. .
    By 2020 those jets will swatted out of the sky by defense and assault systems that Canada SHOULD be investing in to swat OTHER people's 2020-obsolete airframes out of the sky with.

    I hope Mr. Layton and the NDP can formulate a defense regime that will support university, industrial, and commercial development of advanced avionics, robotics, communication, and airframe design that will be actual an economic boon to Canada, and that we maintain substantially domestic, and/or contract out or subcontract parts for other countries' defense systems.

    I'm not saying that in defense of warcraft. Just to make the waste of lives make a little more economic sense for fiscal conservatives who think war is cool. I will expect better of Layton of course. The money for those jets would pay off a lot of student debt.

    • Interesting that the Japanese are holding a competition too. I know South Korea (another country with more pressing and immediate defence needs than us) is also apparently planning on holding an open competition before committing to the F-35. Any idea where the South Korean plans are these days Mark?

  14. S. Korean latest:

    The F-35 Lightning II was initially seen as the only contender for F-X-3, but program delays began to make its participation questionable, and South Korea's politics are pushing them toward building up their own defense industry as a prime supplier. The multinatinal F-35 program has no space for that kind of lead role, and Korean discussions for Phase 3 quickly shifted to some kind of indigenous “5th generation” design, possibly in concert with a major foreign defense firm. Eventually, however, the cost, development, and technology transfer realities involved became apparent to all. A “KF-X” program with Indonesia is aimed at designing an F-16 peer replacement beyond 2020, but Korea will look to off-the-shelf platforms for its near-term, top-tier F-X-3 fighter buy.

    Even so, Korea's dream of participating in the development of a new platform may yet survive in a toned-down form. Boeing continues to take steps toward making Korea the launch partner for its most advanced F-15 fighter yet: the F-15SE Silent Eagle. Its greatly-improved radar stealth, internal weapon bays, and major advances in onboard radar and sensors offer the ROKAF a platform that's compatible with many of its existing fighters, while boasting advanced capabilities that Korean firms can help manufacture for other F-15 customers.

    The F-15SE will still have to face competition from Lockheed Martin's F-35A/B jets, and likely from the EADS/BAE Eurofighter as well…'

    Nice to be able to spend real money on defence. But then S. Korea constantly faces real war at home as we do not.


    • Thanks Mark. As always, your contributions to all of us on this file are stellar!

      • Just facts and occasional interpretation. Thanks for noticing.