Trumping Time

Posted by lex, on July 30, 2009


The web-based encyclopedia Wikipedia has its detractors: Political controversies remain controversial behind the curtain, and articles about the arcane or esoteric tend to be populated by niche enthusiasts. For all that, the Wikipedia editors make a sincere attempt to present information fairly and accurately.

For example, in the sometimes confusing arena of military aircraft procurement costs, Wikipedia’s standards are clear and sensible:

Wikipedia editors should strive to only use the basic unit flyaway cost (FAC) or unit procurement/program cost (UPC) in their articles and identify which they are using.

Agenda-driven political opponents of aircraft programs typically roll RDT&E costs, spares, tools and even MILCON into their unit cost calculations as a way to inflate – often grotesquely – the marginal cost of a single aircraft. Unit procurement costs are far the more accurate measure, since sunken, up-front costs may eventually be spread over more airframes in the future as additional aircraft are purchased,  as is happening right now with the FA-18E/F Super Hornet

Time magazine feels no compunction about generally accepted accounting standards however, as revealed in their photo essay “Top 10 Most Expensive Military Planes.” Hard times call for informed decisions, but this is nothing but your standard, reflexively anti-military hit piece.

The table below compares Time’s cost per aircraft against Wikipedia’s usage (for the most part) with the unit overage in the right most column.  Since the P-8A program is still in LRIP and foreign military sales are still in negotiation, unit costs are squishier and had to be derived elsewhere. And while the House Armed Services Committee has indeed restored VH-71 funding as Time asserts, those dollars are unlikely to be approved in conference with the Senate, nor signed into law by the president. Using Time’s methodology of total program cost divided by the number of aircraft fielded therefore, the unit cost for the VH-71 would be infinite, the editors having granted themselves permission to divide by zero.

Cost (millions)
Aircraft Time Wikipedia* Difference
FA-18A-C $94 $29 $65
FA-18E-F $94 $57 $37
EA-18G $102 $66 $36
V-22 $118 $68 $50
F-35 $122 $83 $39
E-2D $232 $204 $28
VH-71 $241 Canceled
P-8A $290 $277 $13
C-17A $328 $218 $110
F-22 $350 $137.50 $213
B-2 $2,400 $737 $1,663

Citizens reading about FA-18C aircraft costing $94 million per copy – Time doesn’t bother to break out the legacy Hornet from the more expensive (more capable) Rhino – would rightfully be outraged. Instead they ought to be angered at such a slanted essay from what pretends to be a news and analysis journal. From the editors’ perspective, I suppose it takes the  heat off the trillion dollar health care reform proposals now circulating in Washington.

For reference, the still developmental Boeing 787 is expected to cost between $150-200 million dollars per copy, while the Airbus A 380 is expected to cost between $317-337 million dollars per airframe.

Aircraft, as someone who has spent far too much time mooning over Mooneys and Huskeys at could tell you, ain’t cheap.


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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Lex, Media

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