With all the problems and delays facing the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, critics of the program have had plenty of ammunition at their disposal. Now, they're about to get one more figure to lob at proponents of the plagued fighter – its cost. Now, we know the F-35 program itself is very pricey – the latest reports claim the jet has already cost an eye-watering $400 billion over the course of its development so far. The latest forecast for the unit cost, though, isn't a much more encouraging sign.

According to Winslow Wheeler, a staffer at the Project On Government Oversight, each individual jet should cost between $148 million and $337 million in fiscal year 2015, with an average per-unit price of $178 million, DoDBuzz reports.

"This data is the empirical, real-world costs to buy, but not to test or develop, an F-35 in 2015," Wheeler wrote on blogging site Medium.com. "They should be understood to be the actual purchase price for 2015 – what the Pentagon will have to pay to have an operative F-35."

Wheeler, who counts stints working on security issues with the Senate and the Government Accountability Office among his accolades, unsurprisingly expects the conventional takeoff and landing variant employed by the Air Force – the F-35A – to be the cheapest of the plane's three variants, at $148 million.

Weirdly, the complex short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing model, the F-35B, will only cost Uncle Sam $251 million to put it in the hands of US Marine aviators. The most expensive model, by a large margin, is the F-35C. Designed for the difficult environment of the US Navy's aircraft carriers, the tailhook-equipped Lightning will ring in at $337 million, Wheeler wrote.

Wheeler came to his figures courtesy of data from the Senate Appropriations Committee, although a spokesman for the Department of Defense disputes the figures, arguing the contracted price for the planes is $112 million, $139 million and $130 million for A, B and C variants, respectively. These figures use the military's so-called "flyaway cost," a metric the analyst rejects.

Wheeler explains why the "flyaway costs" are hokum, and then goes on to breakdown the costs behind each model, even highlighting why the Navy's plane is more than twice the price of the USAF model (it's more complicated than tweaking the landing gear). Head over to DoDBuzz and check it out.


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