How Much Does an F-35 Fighter Really Cost?

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The F-35 fighter.

There’s been a rash of recent reports that the U.S. military has wrestled the F-35’s cost growth to the mat. They come from some heavy hitters: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Air Force Lieut. General Christopher Bogdan, the F-35’s program manager, and the Pentagon’s latest Selected Acquisition Report.

That’s a good thing, if true: the $400 billion program is the most costly in the history of the world. Its price has jumped by nearly 70% since the Pentagon signed a deal to buy nearly 2,500 of the stealthy, single-engine, single-seat planes for the Air Force, Marines and Navy in 2001.

Halting the cost growth is critical. Rising prices mean fewer planes can be bought, which drives up the cost of those that actually are bought, which scares away potential customers, which drives up costs even more.

Winslow Wheeler isn’t convinced the costs have stopped rising.

In fact, Wheeler — a longtime military-cost analyst on Capitol Hill (where he toiled on both sides of the aisle) and the Government Accountability Office — says the plane’s $159 million purported per copy price in that latest Pentagon SAR — continues to rise, and is actually well north of that sum.

He promises to walk us as gently as he can through a forest of Pentagon data searching for the truth each day this week. We invite you to tag along.

As always, we invite contrary views. Feel free to comment at the end of his posts, or drop us a line at