Vertically Challenged: Marine F-35 Engines’ Long Lead, Much Higher Cost

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You may recall a couple of weeks ago when we reported, based on our own crude analysis of a Pentagon contract announcement, that the latest batch of engines for the Marine’s F-35 fighter would cost $129 million apiece, five times the $25 million sticker on the Air Force F-35 motor. The Marines’ higher cost is because its airplane is going to be able to make short take offs and land vertically. The Marine F-35 needs to be able to do this because its amphib aircraft carriers are smaller than the Navy’s (why the U.S. military needs the world’s two largest carrier fleets is a topic for another day).

Unfortunately, that amazing vertical jump in the Marine price tag doesn’t look like an aberration. On Friday, the Pentagon announced how much it is spending to buy so-called “long-lead items” for another batch of F-35 power plants (it’s the first contract in the list). This is stuff that takes awhile to make, so it’s ordered in advance of the actual engine contract:

— Air Force: $3.1 million per engine

— Navy: $5.3 million per engine

— Marines: $14.1 million per engine

Mind you: this is not the cost per airplane, nor the cost per engine. It is only the cost per engine of these ordered-in-advance items. Good to know that when it comes time to land in the poorhouse, we’ll be able to do so vertically.