F-35, Space Programs Drive Air Force Programs’ Cost Growth

In a recent analysis of Air Force acquisitions by the RAND Corp., researchers found that recent increases in cost growth in Air Force programs are largely driven by three space programs and the F-35 strike fighter. The F-35 program has “above average, but not nearly high enough” cost growth “to be considered extreme,” according to the report. At $87.1 billion dollars, however, it is more costly, in terms of dollars, than all of the Air Force’s other continuing major defense acquisition programs. The three space programs with “extreme cost growth” are the Space Based Infrared System missile defense satellite program, Advanced Extremely High Frequency communications satellite system, and the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, according to the report. Together with the F-35A, these four programs make up “95 percent of the cost growth in the continuing programs,” according to the report. Although there is “minimal cost growth” in major acquisition programs started in the past decade, the RAND report cites four programs that will consume a large portion of USAF’s weapon systems budget over the next 20 years. They include the F-35A strike fighter, EELV, the KC-46A tanker, and the Long-Range Strike Bomber. “Opportunity remains to stem the cost growth in these programs,” states the report. “The second two are earlier in the acquisition process and thus provide even greater opportunities to ensure affordability and minimal future cost growth.”