From the DEW Line, an insightful (and incisive) blog devoted to the global defense industry, here some numbers for the multi-national F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program:
The first figures represent the original production forecast for the JSF. Plans called for building 5 this year, 16 next year, and 47 in 2009.
But, as DEW crew points out, the military is now looking at substantially lower production rates, evidenced by the second set of numbers. Under that plan, we'll build two JSFs in 2007, 12 in 2008, and only 16 in 2009.
Why is that important? Smaller production totals equals higher unit costs. That reality has been evident in the F-22 Raptor program, where scaled-back "buys" have driven up the cost for individual aircraft. Originally pegged at $60-80 million a copy, the price for each F-22 is now well over $100 million an aircraft, and will rise even higher, if the production run drops below the 179 aircraft currently projected.
For a program predicated on "affordability" (like JSF) production decreases and delays will translate to higher costs, and the possibility that some foreign buyers might elect to cancel their planned purchases. And that will drive costs for the F-35 even higher.
On a related note, the Weekly Standard has links to some cool video of the JSF's first maneuvering flight tests. "It worked exceedingly well," the test pilot reported. Or, as they say in the flight test business these days, "It flew just like the sim."