The tri-service F-35 fighter program is making rapid progress in retiring risk and winning political support. It is now over halfway through its flight-test schedule with no major problems identified, and eleven of America’s most important allies have committed to buying it. The Air Force and Marine Corps both rate F-35 as their top modernization priority. But there is still debate in Navy circles about whether the sizable gains in survivability, situational awareness and strike capacity delivered by the carrier-based F-35C justify its price-tag. What’s missing from that debate is a recognition that the Navy’s F/A-18E Super Hornet and the F-35C have pretty much the same flyaway cost when you compare them at similar stages in production. The reason the price looks different today is that hundreds of Super Hornets have been produced (first flight:1999) and only 22 F-35C’s have been (first flight: 2010). I have written a commentary for Aviation Week that you can read here.
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