The US is designing a sixth-generation fighter to beat Russian and Chinese analogues, but the budget watchdog says it’s 3 times higher than the cost of an F-35 and wonders if the new jet’s whopping price tag is affordable.
Dubbed the Penetrating Counter Air (PCA), the next-generation fighter jet is poised to become the future of aerial warfare by the middle of this century. It is said to have a greater range and payload, with stealth capabilities surpassing those of Russian and Chinese competitors.
The only problem is its staggering price, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) warned in a new report which predicted the cost of phasing out the current Air Force’s inventory from now until as far as 2050.
It says that the future jet could amount to much as $300 million apiece in 2018 dollars, which is three times as expensive as the $94-million F-35A jet – an American technological marvel that turned into a nightmare for the taxpayer-funded military budget
The whopping sum is not an official Pentagon estimate, but it marks the first time a government body has unveiled a potential price tag for PCA. Notably, the $300-million figure can be altered, the report says.
The reason for the staggering price tag comes down to the cost of new technology as well as R&D effort, CBO stated. It estimates the Air Force may take delivery of 414 PCA aircraft to replace F-15s, F-22s and F-35s, raising the total price to more than $124 billion.
But it turns out that the cost isn’t the only problem down the road. CBO says the first PCAs could enter service in 2030, but admits that this delivery schedule “may be optimistic” in light of the “long development times associated with F-22s and F-35s.”
Other stealth aircraft, such as the B-2 bomber and the F-22 and F-35 fighters “have experienced cost increases that resulted in lower production rates and decreased total purchases,” it warns before adding: “Containing costs for the PCA aircraft may be similarly difficult.”
There’s a convenient way out, CBO says, suggesting that the Air Force gets a hybrid plane based upon a modified F-22 Raptor and featuring the modern avionics of the F-35. Such a move would supposedly ensure US dominance in the air while it’s waiting for the sixth-generation jet which is years away.
Still, the PCA isn’t the most expensive jet to be developed in the US. The F-22, the very first fifth-generation fighter to ever enter service, gained notoriety for its extremely high price which saw the entire program shut down in early 2010s. The cost of one such jet was $150 million in 2009, but, because of R&D costs, a single F-22 plane amounted to $400 million.
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