Key point: The fewer planes you buy, the higher the per unit cost.
Almost every defense-industrial publication this month has covered the language in the House version of the 2017 National Defense Authorization bill which directs the Pentagon “to conduct a comprehensive assessment and study of the costs associated with resuming production of F-22 aircraft.” We could take out pick of stories from Defense News, Aviation Week, Inside Defense, or Politico Pro. The actual issue perhaps should not have been so newsworthy. In a note to investors this week, Byron Callan of Capital Alpha called the restart idea “a fantasy.” On the numbers, I’ll call it just a very questionable idea.
Why the enthusiasm the F-22A?
Some supporters believe strongly that it’s a better fighter than the F-35A. But when fielding a question at last Thursday's Royal Aeronautical Society dinner, Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the F-35 program manager, suggested asking pilots who have flown the both the F-22 and the F-35 which they’d prefer to take into combat. (The dinner, incidentally, was honoring the general for his work on the program.) The bigger problem may be economic. At issue is more than potentially alarming restart costs; the F-22s are very expensive to operate, and the USAF knows so. Back in 2013, the service released figures from its Air Force Cost and Performance (AFCAP) system that accounted for costs per flight hour. All such numbers are strongly subject to accounting conventions, accountants’ interpretations, and simply the number of hours flown in any year. These were average, and not marginal, costs. All the same, the differences were remarkable:
Fighter or attack aircraft type, Average cost per flight hour, 2008–2012 (CY $):
F-22A Raptor - $68,362
F-15C Eagle - $41,921
F-15E Strike Eagle - $32,094
F-16C Fighting Falcon - $22,514