And how much did the study cost?

Raptor Program Costs Compared to Those of the Super Hornet

Defense News:

It costs more to develop a revolutionary, supersonic fighter jet than to build an aircraft based on an existing design, says a report released Oct. 10 by Rand Corp., “Lessons Learned from the F/A-22 and F/A-18E/F Development Programs.”

Glad they figured that out!

The Rand research brief is available online and includes this tidbit:

The programs allocated different portions of their budgets for management reserve. Management reserve is used to cover unknown problems in a development program. The F/A-22 program allocated only about 2 percent of its budget for management reserve. This reserve was depleted in about the first year of development because of the technical challenges. The F/A-18E/F program maintained roughly 10 percent of the contract value as management reserve, enough to cover unforeseen problems as they arose.

Two percent? Two freaking percent? They allocated that amount of the budget for “unknown problems” in the development of a revolutionary high-tech jet fighter? Who were they kidding? Besides Congress, I mean.


  1. Perhaps the #1 lesson that should be learned is that future fighter development programs should be like the F-22 program and nothing like the F-18 program? The F-22 program, while being more expensive, actually justifies its costs. Yes, F-22s are expensive. They’re also really, really good. I don’t think we can say the same for F-18E/F. So the real conclusion is that, to get a cheaper jet, you have to sacrifice performance? Again, a bit of a no-brainer. I feel a bit about F-18E/F like I do about Stryker. They both work. They both do their job. They’re both hacked up versions of something smaller and lighter. But neither is as good as they could have been, for all the money they cost.

  2. Ahh… good point. Thank you for being a voice of reason. Another difference is that the F-14 could have easily been modified to do the same job as the F-18E/F and probably do it better and cheaper. The Stryker is significantly different from pretty much any Army/Marines vehicle, except perhaps the one it was derived from.

  3. I’m not really anti-Super Hornet, and I recognize that the Tomcat is incredibly expensive to maintain and operate, so I haven’t been too harsh on the decision to phase out the F-14. (Despite missing it already…) But making that same argument using the same logic for the USAF probably would mean Super Falcons or Super Eagles intead of the Raptor. I’m concerned that the Navy got the short end of the stick and that the massive expense of the F-22 program is going to threaten the F-35, screwing the Navy even more in the long run. Still, it takes a wide range of systems to make a military go. These multi-purpose platforms look great on paper, but the ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ rule applies. Adding addtional capability to proven platforms, like the EW systems for the B-52 or developing the ‘Bombcat’ capability is a lot different than trying to shoehorn everything in from the beginning. EW B-52s are still good bombers and Bombcats are still good air superiority fighters. F-35s won’t be good A-10s.

  4. Well: “I’m not really anti-Super Hornet” I just think they could have gotten better planes for less money. That doesn’t make the ones they got useless. Just a series of bad decisions, IMO. “I recognize that the Tomcat is incredibly expensive to maintain and operate” I think there are three main reasons for this, two of which could have been fixed: 1) they’re bigger, more capable and more complex than Hornets. You can’t do much about that. But since they’re more capable, you need less of the to do the same job in many instances, which means less flight hours and less maintenance, so I don’t buy that it’s necessarily that big of a disadvantage. It’s that whole argument ‘cheaper is better’ when you don’t consider what you may be giving up in exchange for the cheapness… 2) most F-14s were never upgraded and were still using late-’60s technology at the time of their retirement (I tihnk). I bet the A versions, and to some extent even the D versions, were still using analogue electronics and such. Rip that out and replace it with new electronics, and not only do you get a better fighter (and save some weight to boot) but it ought to be a lot easier to maintain. That would have required some development costs, but I believe they would have been reasonable – a lot less than the F-18E/F cost to develop. 3) the airframes were old. Grumman offered to build new F-14s on a fixed price contract, for a lot less than F-18E/Fs are costing now. The new ones would have been updated, of course, providing the money was made available for the R&D. “I’m concerned that the Navy got the short end of the stick and that the massive expense of the F-22 program is going to threaten the F-35, screwing the Navy even more in the long run.” I think they’ll get their F-35s, which will be better than F-18s, but nowhere near as good as F-22s (for a substantial fraction of the price). If the F-22 is really successful, maybe it will be possible to navalise it, like the Russians did with their MiG-29s and Su-27/30/33s. Then again on a carrier, small is good in many ways. You can fit more, for a start, and taking off/landing isn’t quite so harsh. “F-35s won’t be good A-10s.” The way I see it, F-35s will be better F-16s/Harriers, which happens to also have a naval version. That’s about it. F-16s are great little planes, especially as light bombers, but no, they were never replacements for A-10s or F-15s. I’m sure the F-35 will be a major leap in capability from F-16s/Harriers but I don’t think they’ll take over any extra roles… Even with F-35s, I think upgraded F-14s would have provided a very nice complementary capability. Hell, I’m not even stuck on the idea of an F-14, I just think that was the cheapest way to get a capable, modern, large, carrier-based aircraft. Sorry for rambling…

  5. Oh, and let’s not forget, engine maintenance is most likely significant. They never did re-engine the F-14 fleet (apparantly the D model flew much nicer, and I would be interested to know if it was lower maintenance), and what’s more, it’s even possible the F-22’s engine would fit in an F-14. I just don’t think they really tried very hard to fix the maintenance problem properly, and ended up using it as a bit of an excuse. But, I’m not in the Navy, so this is something of an assumption.

  6. Hey Murdoc. Your posts on the F-22, i’m afraid, often seem to be biased against it. Although your posts on the military are excellent, you seem to be very much the army/navy type of fellow, rather than so much air force. In the air, old, and upgraded is generally not better than new and super. The F-22 is a fighter that one cannot possibly overlook for our defence in the future. Although today, it is not particularily useful, I can guarantee that it will be worth its salt when we need it. 1 point to mention is that if we do not develop this plane, we will lose out big time in the realm of aeronautic advancement, just like the Canadians with the Arrow. The F-22 is a remarkable plane, and I’d like to go through its amazing capabilites. Unfortunately, with a physics test tomorrow, I have to skip it. I will however recommend 2 websites for you to check out that should fill you in nicely to the Raptor. The rest is up to you and your imagination. Cheers

  7. A couple of thoughts. The F-22 is a good plane – I am not sure its worth its price, but given its mission – air dominance and the total dependency of the whole military on air dominance. The cost is most likely worth it. The Navy? is screwed – 6 ways from sunday. The hornet is a capable fighter – but is not one you are going to rule the skys with. If the navy ever has to go up against an air power without the Air Force comming in and controling the air, I am not sure the navy can cut it. The study on strategy page was like – the F22 kills 10 for every one loss, and the F-18 dies twice for every one enemy kill? F-35? I have some issues with it. Personally I think a modernized F-15 say, F-15L – with F-22 radar, avoinic and the F-22’s engines. You could make a serious 2nd line fighter with a significant bomb capablilty. F-35 taking the A-10 role? yea right…. I love the stories about how fun a A-16 is to fly when you fire the GAU.

  8. Bfalcon: Well, I’m not really ‘biased against the F-22’ as I’m very critical of the way the program’s been handled. This 2% crap simply shows how dishonest folks were in pushing this through. Also, I always felt that the F-23 might have had more going for it, at least if we had to pick one or the other, so I’ll freely admit that there might be a few sour grapes laying around. That being said, I’m not at all unhappy with the actual plane (if we ignore costs) and I’ve long argued against those that suggested cutting the program entirely. The ‘F/A’ re-designation is pretty silly and nothing more than dumb marketing crap, but I’m all for having a front-line fighter for the 21st century. Despite the current needs of our military, you’ll notice that I never forget about our Chinese friends and the fact that at some point we may be forced to do something about something. If that time comes we’ll be glad we’ve got the Raptor. At the same time, however, let’s not forget that we could have bought body armor for every single American soldier in Iraq without for the cost of one of these birds. And I wish we had.

  9. Bfalcon: Most of my posts about the Raptor have been in the same vein as my posts about the 767 tanker. I’m not opposed to a 767 tanker, and, in fact, I fully support the idea. It’s the way things were being done that was the problem. Not to really compare the travesty of that program with the F-22 program. Just that the type of criticsim was similar.

  10. James: Yes, my point about the A-10 was that no other plane could do that. And we want to be able to do that. I think my feelings/thoughts on the Super Hornet are pretty much in line with yours. I don’t know how plausible a navalized variant of the F-22 would be, and it’s a pointless question. I seem to recall that the F-23 had a lot more potential in that direction, but I might be wrong. I’d say let’s navalize the A-10, but we’re just damn lucky to still have a ground-based A-10… And that study you mentioned didn’t include F-14s, at least not the results I looked at. Hmmmm…

  11. Murdoc: The F-22 program may have been badly managed (obviously a 2% reserve is too little), but compared to most other military procurement programs it’s a shining beacon of brilliance for the following reasons: a) It didn’t get cancelled. b) The product lives up to most/all of the promises and specifications. c) It’s only about 100% over budget rather than the usual 300%. d) It may not have had the best decisions made – yes, the F-23 sounded like it could have been a good choice too – but you really can’t complain TOO much. e) Arguably, it was awarded to the company/companies with the most experience in building similar aircraft. How would the F-14 have done compared to all those other aircraft? Well, first question is, do you allow them to use Phonixes, and second question is, do you believe they worked as well as they were supposed to. If so, I’d say it would do better than many of the others, simply because even if Phoenix has a less than 25% chance of working, that still gives an F-14 equipped with 2 or 4 a pretty good chance of killing a target before it has even the slightest chance of being a threat. If not, they probably wouldn’t do well since they’re pretty big targets and never got a modern radar or even AMRAAM capability. Possibly even worse than the F-18 because of that last point. With AMRAAM capability they shouldn’t do any worse than the old model F-15 and with AESA they’d probably do as well as the modern F-15s. A naval A-10? I bet the Marines would like that idea but the Navy would hate it. “At the same time, however, let’s not forget that we could have bought body armor for every single American soldier in Iraq without for the cost of one of these birds. And I wish we had.” They all have body armour now – right? Let’s face it, the US can afford to do both if it only tries. It’s hard to argue ‘the army needs more tanks/APCs, but the Air Force is spending all the money’. I think there are a lot of other expensive programs that are more deserving of cancellation than the F-22 if there’s a short supply of money. Another program that probably deserves to be completed, despite controvery, is the Comanche – if it lives up to some of its promises. Apaches are just no good for covert work. Compare the front profile to a Cobra gunship some day… a modern Cobra-like chopper would be great.

  12. Murdoc – ‘I don’t know how plausible a navalized variant of the F-22 would be, and it’s a pointless question. I seem to recall that the F-23 had a lot more potential in that direction, but I might be wrong.’ I was not talking about navalizing the F-22.(never happen) I was thinking more on the lines of updating the F-15 and tossing the F-35. Given past experiences, I would be that the F-35 will come out more expensive and less capable then a updated F-15 strike eagle. (an F-15 that barrows from the F-22 tech – engines & avionics)

  13. James – I believe it was I who brought up the concept of a navalised F-22. Yes, you could upgrade F-15s to be closer to F-22s and navalise them. I suppose the advantage is that F-15s can carry a lot heavier load (externally) and are cheaper – although how much cheaper once they’re upgraded will depend on how much they are upgraded. What’s the landing speed of an F-15 like? I think that was one big reason why the F-14 had the swing wings, and of great importance when operating from a carrier. It would probably be possible to lower that speed with technology like thrust vectoring and blown flaps. Murdoc – well, the F-22 isn’t really an attack aircraft, but it CAN carry two 1000lb bombs, which isn’t totally useless. My feeling is this is more for attacking targets which other aircraft (short of a B-2) can’t really get near – like SAM sites. It would certainly be inefficient to have F-22s ferry 2000lb of bombs back and forth when other attack aircraft can carry many times that. It’s just a question of whether those other aircraft can get to the target safetly.

  14. Man, oh man. I don’t think there’s been this much action in the comments area since someone last said ‘battleship!’. LOL. First, yes, it was Nicholas who brought up the navalized F-22, not James. My bad. Sorry. And I’m not arguing against the F-22, really, and I’ve always thought we needed at least some of them. We need to have the best of the best. Period. Despite the cost and the questionable need in the near-term, we certainly don’t want to be in the position of wishing we had gone that last 5% of the program before cancelling it. Re: Commanche. I wouldn’t have minded seeing that thing in the inventory at all. But if something needed to be axed, it was the one. Rather that than the F-22, for instance. (Though you could probably convince me that the DD(X) is more axe-worthy…)