F-35 and F-18; Changing fortunes

F-35 and F-18; Changing fortunes

Posted on March 28th, 2012 in Services

Not so long ago, the days of the F-18 seemed numbered. At least on paper, the Navy was committed to the carrier variant of the F-35, and production of the F-18 was ramping down. But aging of the current fleet and F-35 delays have created a very different picture. The two charts below illustrate the trend.

In the first, note that each subsequent year’s plan (colored lines) for the F-35 shows a substantial ramp up…and each year it shifts to the right.

[Note: 2008 is an anomaly because the Future Years Defense Plan (FYDP) did not yet include production line items, and 2010’s line is missing because DoD did not publish a FYDP in FY10).

Also note that intially the President’s Budget Request (PBR) for the year–represented as small pentagons — was higher than planned (cost growth), but that starting in 2012, it dropped below plan (budget pressures and program delays). Finally, we’ve included 2011 and 2012 Congressional appropriations (triangles) which are lower than the request–significantly lower, in 2012.

F-35 Trends

In the second chart, we see how DoD’s plans for the F-18 have evolved. The leftmost (blue) line shows the 2008 budget request and FYDP for line items covering all F-18 variants; as above, the other colored lines represent successive FYDPs. Of course, the drop off in 2009 didn’t happen. 2010 was more or less according to the 2009 plan, but in every subsequent year until this one the budget request exceeded the previous year’s plan–and the future spending is increased as well.

F-18 Trends

The second chart does show that the FY12 and FY13 FYDPs seem to finally  be converging for the F-18…but how well that holds up would seem to depend on progress with the F-35. Recent reports indicate that the tailhook of the C variant must be redesigned, among other issues. And the Secretary of the Air Force has gone on record saying that there will be no additional money to cover F-35 cost increases–buys will be reduced. In the FY13 budget, the Air Force introduced an F-16 SLEP program, though they’ve resisted buying more “fourth generation” fighters. Navy support for the F-35 has not been as strong as the Air Force’s, and they’ve fought to keep all their carriers and air wings…so there may yet be more money headed for the F-18.