Pentagon says F-35 fighter program's cost still exceeding estimates

The total cost of the F-35 joint strike fighter program will be far higher than estimated just a few months ago, the Pentagon confirmed Tuesday, but a report sent to Congress says the next-generation warplane must be continued because it is vital to national security.

Pentagon analysts now estimate that the cost to the U.S. of developing the F-35 and buying 2,443 combat-ready jets could total $382 billion through 2036.

That compares with an estimated price tag of $328 billion reported to Congress just two months ago and is more than double the original estimate of $178 billion when the program was launched in 2001.

The latest estimate, prepared by a team of independent Pentagon cost estimators, was included in a report that Ashton Carter, undersecretary of defense for weapons acquisition, was required to prepare for Congress to justify continuing the F-35 program.

The earlier cost estimate triggered the Nunn-McCurdy review, as the report is known for the law requiring it, because it showed the program was exceeding original estimates by more than 50 percent.

The estimated average cost of one F-35, including all research and development spending and various other expenses not directly linked to production, has soared from about $62 million in 2001 to $156 million.

The average cost of just buying the airplanes and engines has increased from an estimated $50 million each in 2001 to $133 million over the life of the program. The latter number in part reflects the government's plans to buy 400 fewer planes than it did in 2001.

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