Marines’ F-35 Engines Costing Way More Than Other Services’

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Pratt & Whitney

An F-35 engine undergoes testing

There’s been lots of grumbling over the cost of the $380 billion F-35 fighter program, and some wheels squeak louder than others. On Wednesday, the Navy awarded a $1.1 billion contract for 30 F-35 engines to Pratt & Whitney Military Engines of East Hartford, Conn.

Pentagon contracts are complicated beasts rarely clear to the taxpayer footing the bill. But the F-35 engine award gives us a peek into which service’s F-35s are likely to cost the most:

Taking just the U.S. military data in the contract announcement, and applying some crude math (your Battleland scribe thought slide rule was baseball-related, back in the day):

— The Navy is buying six engines – 20% of the total buy of 30 – and is paying $167 million. That’s 15% of the total $1.1 billion contract. Works out to $28 million per engine.

— The Air Force is buying 21 engines – 70% of the total buy of 30 – and is paying $521 million. That’s 46.3% of the total $1.1 billion purchase. That’s $25 million per powerplant.

— The Marines are buying three engines – 10% of the 30-engine deal – and are paying $387 million. That’s 34.5% of the total $1.1 billion contract. That’s $129 million per engine.

There are probably some complicating factors involved not reflected in the contract announcement. And the Marines are buying fewer engines, which makes each one more expensive. They’re also developing theirs for short takeoffs and vertical landings, which  increases the price. But by more than 300%?

All this bolsters the case recently made by retired Marine colonel T.X. Hammes: “Our Corps needs to earn back its reputation for being ready with less money.”