New audit projects F-35 costs

2 November 2023

The federal government received potentially reassuring news today about its planned buy of Lockheed Martin F-35 as replacements for its legacy Boeing CF-188 Hornets, a 1970s design which began service with the RCAF in 1982.

Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux says the RCAF can expect total life-cycle costs for the 88 aircraft, from development to disposal, of some $73.9 billion .

When the government announced in March 2022, after years of discussion, that LM was the preferred bidder, it set the stage for confirmation in January 2023 of a deal with the U.S. government, LM and its engine supplier, Pratt & Whitney.

Lifecycle costs by then had risen to an estimated $70 billion but Giroux says the latest estimate, although having risen by some $4 billion in the last couple of years, is generally in line with expectations.

Compare that with the projected $17 trillion the U.S. Department of Defense, as Lockheed Martin’s primary customer, expects to spend on its three F-35 variants. Currently operating 450, it plans to buy a total of 2,500 for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

Giroux’s report breaks down the lifecycle forecast, including $200 million in development funds already spent. The basic procurement is forecast at $19.8 billion while operations and sustainment costs over an initial 30-year period, beginning in 2025-2026, is $53.8 billion. Add $200 million for disposal.

The RCAF expects delivery of its first four F-35s in 2026 after the main fighter bases in Cold Lake, Alberta, and Bagotville, Quebec, have updated their operations and sustainment facilities. Six more would follow in each of the two subsequent years and then 18 annually from 2029 to final delivery in 2032.

Operations and sustainment is slated to begin in the 2025-26 fiscal year in advance of the initial deliveries. Estimated costs are based on an assumed 30-year operational life span for each aircraft and that none would be lost to crashes or other circumstances. The RCAF expects each platform to log some 167 flying hours annually, 14,700 hours for the fleet.