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Costs Dropping for F-35, JLTV, Other Big-Ticket Weapons Programs: Pentagon

Estimated costs for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet, the Humvee-replacement known as the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and other big-ticket weapons programs are falling, according to newly released Pentagon data.

The Defense Department on Thursday released the 2015 cost estimates for a portfolio of 79 weapons programs worth some $1.64 trillion. That dollar amount reflects a $7 billion, or 0.4 percent, increase from the same year-ago period, according to a press release on summaries of the Selected Acquisition Reports, or SARs.

Interestingly, when the portfolio is limited to the 35 biggest programs -- those with cost estimates greater than $10 billion -- high-profile efforts such as F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, or JLTV, fared better than their peers.

For example, costs for both the F-35 aircraft made by Lockheed Martin Corp. and the F135 made by Pratt & Whitney declined 4.1 percent to $332 billion and by 5 percent to $60.7 billion, respectively, from previous forecasts due in part to "revised estimates," according to the figures. Overall, the program -- the Pentagon's most expensive acquisition effort -- is now estimated to cost $379 billion for a total of 2,457 aircraft and engines.

The stealthy fifth-generation fighter, however, remains challenged by unresolved hardware and software issues and may not be ready for initial operational test and evaluation until mid-2018, a year later than planned. Even so, the Air Force is pushing to declare the aircraft ready to carry out initial combat operations -- close air support, interdiction and suppression of enemy air defenses -- between August and December of this year after the Marine Corps did so last year.

Of the 35 biggest acquisition programs, here are the 20 with the biggest cost increases and decreases from previous estimates, according to a analysis of the Pentagon data:



Similarly, the Army and Marine Corps effort to replace a third of their Humvee fleets with Joint Light Tactical Vehicles, or JLTVs, made by Oshkosh Corp. is now estimated to cost $24.7 billion for 54,714 of the light-duty vehicles, a decrease of nearly 19 percent from its earlier estimate -- the biggest decrease of any of the big-ticket acquisition programs -- thanks in part to "realized savings," according to the release.

Even the controversial Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, or EELV, program, supplied by United Launch Alliance LLC, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co., which relies in part on Russian rocket engines to launch U.S. military and spy satellites, saw its cost estimates drop to $62.4 billion for 161 launches -- a decrease of 12 percent from a previous estimate due partly to renegotiated "contract values," the release states.

Other space-related programs aren't faring so well.

The Air Force's Space Based Infrared System, or SBIRS, being developed by Lockheed, is now estimated to cost $13.7 billion to field four satellites in geosynchronous orbit and two hosted payloads piggybacked onto other satellites in highly elliptical orbit -- more than triple what it was previously estimated to cost.

Meanwhile, the Navy's effort to develop the new class of amphibious transport dock or landing platform dock ships, or LPD, is estimated to cost $20.7 billion for a dozen ships -- more than double what it was previously forecast to cost.

Only one acquisition program, however, had unit cost changes big enough to trigger a Nunn-McCurdy breach, named for the 1982 law requiring the Pentagon to notify Congress if a program experienced significant cost overruns. The notification process was required after the Navy decided to cancel its Remote Minehunting System, or MHS, decreasing the quantity of systems it plans to buy from 54 to the 10 already purchased from Lockheed.

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