The U.S. Navy's chief of naval operations Adm. Gary Roughead says service officials did not alter tactical aviation investment plans after reviewing a Navy study that predicted higher-than-anticipated F-35 operating costs.
Weeks after the Naval Air Systems Command-crafted analysis sent shockwaves across the global defense sector, Roughead said Jan. 26 that it was "done at a working level."
"It will have no bearing on anything we're doing with our budget," Roughead told Defense News following a forum in Washington.
The study, which bears the name of David E. Burgess, director of the cost department for the Naval Air Systems Command, found the costs of flying and maintaining the short takeoff-and-landing (F-35B) and carrier (F-35C) variants of the fifth-generation fighter would be 40 percent higher than F/A-18 fighters naval pilots operate today. The study also determined the costs of operating the Navy Department's two F-35 variants would far exceed initial Pentagon projections.
The Naval Air Systems Command study was set into motion by Roughead's direction that service budget and program officials inject more realistic estimates of how much it will cost to operate and maintain naval platforms over their entire life spans, the CNO said.
Some Pentagon insiders have speculated Navy officials leaked the F-35 life cycle cost study in an attempt to undermine the program, aiming to secure the okay from the Office of the Secretary of Defense to buy more F/A-18s and fewer F-35B and F-35C variants.
The U.S. Air Force also will operate an F-35 variant, the A model, a conventional takeoff-and-landing fighter. Air Force leaders worry if the Navy buys fewer F-35s, the cost of the A variant will rise, leaving the air service with a larger F-35 tab.
In a brief conversation Jan. 20 at a conference in Washington, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz told Defense News he has determined the operating cost figures in the NavAir study "are suspect."
Asked whether he is concerned about the Navy scaling back its total F-35 buy and his service essentially being stuck with a more-expensive A model, Schwartz said simply: "Yes."
"But the Navy doesn't get to make that decision on its own," he said.