Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates cost of F-35 warplanes at $73.9 billion, including $11.3 billion on weapons and munitions

Published by Brent Patterson on

In an 18-page report released on November 2, the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) estimates the “life cycle cost” of Canada’s planned purchase of 88 Lockheed Martin F-35 warplanes at $73.9 billion.

While there isn’t a lot of specificity in the short report (the word “weapons” only appears four times), the PBO appears to suggest that about $11.3 billion will be spent on weapons, munitions and other related “operations costs”.

The report says that in the “Acquisition Phase” (2022-23 to 2034-35): “The Weapons, Munitions and Initial Spares cost element is estimated at $2.1 billion.”

Then in the “Operations and Sustainment Phase” (2025-26 to 2061-62), the report says: “Operations costs, which include system manpower, energy, and training munitions and expendables, are estimated at $9.2 billion.”

The PBO’s report is in line with what the No Fighter Jets Coalition had estimated almost three years ago, before the contract with Lockheed Martin had been signed.

In February 2021, the No Fighter Jets Coalition released this report that estimated the lifecycle costs of the fighter jet purchase at $76.8 billion.

In January 2023, when the selection was announced, Department of National Defence officials acknowledged the total cost would be about $70 billion.

What weapons are being purchased?

Earlier this year, the Ottawa Citizen had reported: “The Canadian government plans to spend more than $6 billion on new weapons for the stealth fighters it has ordered from the U.S. …The $6.3 billion will be for new advanced air-to-air missiles that would cover short, medium and long-ranges, according to National Defence. In addition, some of the money will be earmarked for new still-to-be-determined weapons projects for the stealth fighters. The budget also covers maintenance of the weapons stockpiles.”

That is somewhat in line with the PBO’s figure of $9.2 billion given it appears the PBO rolled that total in with other costs.

That article adds: “In addition, the U.S. and Canada are now in negotiations for a separate delivery of weapons that will be included with the first F-35s. That will involve short and medium-range missiles as well as smart bombs to be used against ground targets. …That purchase is included in the $19 billion overall budget for the planes.”

According to the PBO report released today, the cost of weapons and munitions included with the first F-35s is about $2.1 billion.

Notable excluded costs and omissions

The report notes as an “excluded cost” the approximate $0.5 billion spent starting in 2010-11 on the development costs of the warplane.

There is also disappointingly not a breakdown on the cost of the jet fuel will burn over its “life cycle”. And while it may not be the role of the PBO to produce, it would have been useful to see some reference to the expected carbon emissions from this new fleet.

We will have more analysis soon, but there is some frustration that the graphic released by the PBO features an image of a wrench for “operations and sustainment” rather than a bomb with a specific price tag for that notable and deadly expense.

You can read the PBO report at The Life Cycle Cost of Canada’s F-35 Program – A Fiscal Analysis.

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