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The Most Expensive Fighter Jet Ever Built, by the Numbers

Thanks to the sequester, the Defense Department is now required to cut more than $40 billion this fiscal year out of its $549 billion budget. But one program that's unlikely to take a significant hit is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, despite the fact that it's almost four times more expensive than any other Pentagon weapons program that's in the works.

We've compiled some of the most headache-inducing figures, from the program's hefty cost overruns to the billions it's generating in revenue for Lockheed Martin.

Year in which work on the fighter began.
Year in which full-rate production was set to begin.
Year in which full-rate production is now scheduled.
Estimated total cost in 2001.
Current estimated total cost, according to the Washington Post.
Amount already spent on the F-35.
The number of planes originally ordered by the Pentagon in 2001.
The number of planes currently on order. In 2010, the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission recommended cutting the number of planes ordered for the Navy and the Air Force by half and scrapping the Marines’ version, which has been plagued by the most problems.
The number of planes that have already been built, even though testing of the fighter is far from complete. And when all the tests are finished, "there will be no yes-or-no, up-or-down decision point," Pierre Sprey, one of the chief architects of the Air Force's older F-16 Fighting Falcon, told the Post. "That's totally deliberate. It was all in the name of ensuring it couldn't be canceled."
The number of planes set to be complete by the time testing is finished in 2018.
$81.7 million
Estimated total cost per plane in 2001.
$162.5 million
Current estimated total cost per plane.
The number of jobs the F-35 currently supports, according to Lockheed Martin.
The number of jobs Lockheed says the fighter will support when full production starts.
The states over which Lockheed and its subcontractors and suppliers have spread the F-35 work.
Amount Lockheed spent on lobbying in 2012, according to OpenSecrets.
Lockheed’s approximate revenue from the F-35 in 2012, according to a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. While that figure represented 14 percent of the company’s total revenue last year, Lockheed said in the filing that it expects the F-35 “to represent a higher percentage of our sales in future years.”
Amount it could cost to develop, build, fly and maintain all the F-35s on order for 55 years — the lives of the planes — according to Pentagon estimates cited by Bloomberg.

While the F-35 is billions over budget and years behind schedule, the program seems to be doing better recently. A Government Accountability Office report released this week found that Lockheed has made progress in improving supply and manufacturing processes and addressing technical problems.

"We've made enormous progress over the last few years," Steve O'Bryan, Lockheed’s vice president of F-35 business development, told the Washington Post.

The military’s current head of the program, Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, agreed that things have improved but said Lockheed and another major contractor, Pratt & Whitney, still have a ways to go.

“I want them to take on some of the risk of this program,” Bogdan said last month in Australia, which plans to buy 100 of the planes. “I want them to invest in cost reductions. I want them to do the things that will build a better relationship. I’m not getting all that love yet.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post included the estimated total cost of the F-35 program when it began in 2001 ($233 billion) as well as an inflation-adjusted figure calculated in 2013 dollars in parentheses. The $233 billion figure, however, already included projected inflation, so we have removed the inflation-adjusted figure.

Theodoric Meyer

Theodoric Meyer is a former ProPublica reporting fellow. He was previously an intern at The New York Times and The Seattle Times.

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