Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Another look at DND's faulty cost estimates with the F-35

Back so long ago in 2010, the DND was confident of their position of replacing the CF-18 Hornets with a great and risky unknown F-35. This is possible when you bury figures and use talking points from the seller of the aircraft.

Consider this collection of bizarre thinking:

Defence Minister Peter MacKay last month told the House of Commons defence committee that the air force expected to spend $250 million a year — or about $5 billion over 20 years — on the maintenance deal. That's lower than some of the federal government's initial projections, and is what the air force currently spends to keep the existing fleet of CF-18s in the air.

Officials within the department say they expect to achieve savings because the stealth fighters' support arrangement will see all countries pool spare parts.

"We hope it is more efficient because you can leverage the global supply chain of 3,000 fighters in nine countries," said the official.

"Instead of (us) having to buy 10 sets of extra sets of spare landing gear, (we) can have one set and the global pool has nine and (we) get when (we) need it, but if (we) never need it (we) don't actually have to buy it."

What 3000 fighters?

What nine countries?

Unfortunately, the F-35 is so immature that few know what parts on it will break and at what intervals.

Cost per hour for the F-35 is unlikely to be that of a classic Hornet. They are around $18,000 per flying hour give or take. The F-35 (according to U.S. Navy figures and others) is about $30,000 per flying hour. Probably even more.

At $30,000 per flying hour, MacKay's figures give us about 128 hours per F-35 per year. This is unrealistic. A pilot probably needs 180 flying hours per year as a minimum. Simulators can only do so much. The F-35 (if its capability is to be believed) will be flying longer missions than a Hornet. So add some more there.

Then, all that, only gets you one pilot per jet.

Why are higher pilot numbers to airframes needed? Because of fatigue of sustained flying ops in wartime. Even to sustain real-world operations for a few days requires 2 pilots per jet. 3 per jet for a long war would be better.

Canada has trouble meeting its one pilot per jet numbers. So, maybe, if one wants to park those gold-plated and defective F-35s alot, 128 hours per jet might happen. This cascades. Because with such an overly expensive capability, even if you have a proper number of pilots, the taxpayer can't afford to train two pilots per jet let alone one.

Yes it should be written. 2 pilots per each jet. 2 pilots x 180 hours per year = 360 hours per jet per year.

Oh, and $65M, $70M or $75M to procure each jet has zero hope of ever happening.

The DND really goofed the CF-18 replacement.

All the sudden, anything else for a CF-18 replacement is starting to look good.


Anonymous said...

The way I see it, the whole 30-40 yr -- whatever-it-is -- support and operational cost portion of the Life Cycle Cost is unfortunately stealing too much of the focus and discussion.

The F-35's LCC is so impossible to nail down at this point, it's truly not worth really nickling and diming over, or even shooting from the hip speculating about. It's complete guess work with simply no way to accurately know how much the total bill will be in the end.

What should be the focus in my opinion is merely the Gross Weapon System cost + initial spares. This expense is much easier to estimate and is relative to the actual procurement cost compared to all other alternative options.

From the Unit Gross weapon system cost, one can then better extrapolate a longer-term best guess on how expensive it will be to sustain the jet. That is, the more complex, high-tech, original, stealthy and expensive the full procurement cost per unit is, the more expensive in relative terms it will be to maintain and operate the jet over the life cycle.

That should be the priority... ie examine the actual Gross weapon system cost + initial spares required upfront and then secondarily take that cost to better estimate the LCC in relative terms.

Anonymous said...

And as a p.s.

with FY14 F-35A unit weapon system cost probably coming in around the $170m mark (not including initial spares), give or take... it's not looking too pretty for the LCC compared to original estimates.