Joint aircraft programs do not produce the expected life-cycle cost savings across the military and the benefits are too small to offset the cost growth that takes place in the acquisition phase because the complexities of developing an aircraft to meet different mission requirements for each service, according to a report released Monday by the RAND Corporation.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Photo by Lockheed Martin.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Photo by Lockheed Martin.

The RAND Corporation, a non-profit tank with close Pentagon ties, compared joint programs and single-service aircraft the research and development and procurement phase as well a lifecycle costs and concluded that joint programs don’t yield their advertised value.

“The maximum percentage theoretical savings in joint aircraft acquisition and operations and support compared with equivalent single-service programs is too small to offset the additional average cost growth that joint aircraft programs experience in the acquisition phase,” RAND said.

RAND looked heavily at the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, which is in low-rate production for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and the most expensive program in the Pentagon’s history. The study said it is doubtful the F-35will achieve the predicted life-cycle savings, contrasting it with single-service programs, including the Air Force’s F-22 Raptor.

“Under none of the plausible conditions we analyzed did JSF have a lower (life-cycle cost) estimate than the notional singe-service programs,” the study said.

The report, commissioned by the Air Force, said that service specific requirements dampen commonality, lead to higher complexities and drive cost growth. The F-35 has been plagued by major cost overruns and delays that have forced the Pentagon to restructure it three times.

The Pentagon now estimates the acquisition of the 2,443 Lockheed Martin [LMT] aircraft for the three services will be around $390 billion with a total program life-cycle cost of about $1 trillion.

RAND said joint programs have also resulted in shrunken industrial base for fighter aircraft and also bring greater risk in a time of conflict. If a technical problem causes a grounding of the fleet, there are fewer other types of aircraft to send into the fight, RAND said.