The operational cost of the Swedish Saab Gripen aircraft is the lowest among a flightline of modern fighters, confirmed a White Paper submitted by IHS Jane’s, in response to a study commissioned by Saab.
The paper says that in terms of ‘fuel used, pre-flight preparation and repair, and scheduled airfield-level maintenance together with associated personnel costs’, “The Saab Gripen is the least expensive of the aircraft under study in terms of cost per flight hour (CPFH).”
The study, conducted by Edward Hunt, Senior Consultant, at IHS Jane’s Aerospace and Defense Consulting, compared the operational costs of the Gripen, Lockheed Martin F-16, Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Dassault’s Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon and the F-35 aircraft.
“At an estimated $4,700 per hour (2012 USD), the Gripen compares very favorably with the Block 40 / 50 F-16s which are its closest competitor at an estimated $7,000 per hour,” says the report, adding, “The F-35 and twin-engined designs are all significantly more expensive per flight hour owing to their larger size, heavier fuel usage and increased number of airframe and systems parts to be maintained and repaired. IHS Jane’s believes that aircraft unit cost and size is therefore roughly indicative of comparative CPFH.”
In comparison, the figure for the F/A-18 Super Hornet ranged from USD 11000 to USD 24000, depending on degree of operational capability. The figure for the Rafale was USD 16500 per flying hour and number for the Eurofighter Typhoon, derived from British Parliamentary figures and seeming to cover only fuel usage, was USD 8200. But Jane’s estimate of the actual Cost Per Flying Hour for the Eurofighter, keeping in mind supplies and scheduled maintenance raised the figure up to USD 18000.
The cost of operation of the F-35 appears to be in a whole other league. Jane’s cites Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) estimates for the conventional F-35 A, assuming operational service over 30 years with 200 hours per year for each aircraft, to amount to USD 21000 per hour of flight. The paper also sources US Navy projections of the cost of operation of the F-35 B & C variants until the year 2029, which come to USD 31000 per flight hour.
The report says the figures were based on data sourced from the respective operating militaries and governments, disclosed international fighter competition cost figures (Rafale, F-18 E / F, Gripen), manufacturer-stated figures (F-35, Rafale, F-18 E / F, Gripen) and IHS Jane’s estimates for all aircraft.
There are several caveats to this assessment. “Owing to the differing methods of calculating aircraft operating cost per flight hour and the large number of interlinked factors that affect such a calculation, IHS Jane’s believes that any flight hour cost figure can only be regarded as indicative and that there is no single correct answer to such a calculation,” says the report, but adds, “However, we believe that our results are of considerable merit and provide a useful benchmark when considering the costs associated with operating contemporary high performance combat aircraft.”
The report stresses that ‘without access to comprehensive military data over a significant timeframe’ the results ‘can only be regarded as approximate’ and ‘are an average cost across an entire fleet’.
The report says it is most confident about the data and its conclusions on the Gripen, F-16 and the F/A-18 ‘with good primary and secondary source data supported by logical results from our deductive modeling.’
The numbers for the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Rafale are less certain, in comparison, but the report submits that ‘the comparative modeling output appears to confirm IHS Jane’s estimates’ for them.
The report is least sure about the operational cost of the F-35 costs ‘owing to the absence of actual in-service data’. “IHS Jane’s does not feel that the modeled fuel cost figure is representative of likely CPFH costs,” it says.