SOURCE: KR RAMESH KUMAR / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG
Definition of operating and support (O&S) cost per flying hour (CPFH) seems to be never the focus of most of the debates that place in the Indian defense community sphere when it comes to the procurement of the fighter jets for the Indian Air Force. Often the Low unit cost of F-35A which is now around $78 Million is used to close an argument why India should consider it over French Rafale fighter jets that India previously had procured for nearly $115 million per unit.
CPFH is calculated as an aircraft fleet’s operating and support costs divided by its flying hours. CPFH is made of six factors so it can vary from air force to air force for the same jets with the same specifications. Rafale CPFH in India might be a lot cheaper than Rafale CPFH in Qatar because of the factors in the calculation of the CPFH in the manpower hours spend on each aircraft to keep them running and depending on the money that is spent on salaries and other remuneration paid by each air force to their engineers and technicians will ultimately contribute to the CPFH.
CPFH of F-35A is around $33,000 per flight hour which Lockheed Martin claims will come down to $30,000 per flight hour by the fiscal year 2023 but the issues with regular false alarms by the Autonomic Logistics Information System on the aircraft have only prolonged the downtime of the aircraft but Lockheed plans to fix it and claims to be working to reduce CPFH of the aircraft to around $25,000 per flight hour by end of 2025.
CPFH of Rafale is estimated to be around $18,000 to $21,000 per flight hour, Unlike Lockheed, Dassault has not been forthcoming in giving details of CPFH of Rafale which is why the price range varies but since it is a 4.5gen fighter jet it is expected to have lower CPFH when compared to the 5th Gen F-35. But even if we calculate at the highest CPFH for Rafale then per flight hour cost of Rafale will still be $12,000 cheaper than the current CPFH of the F-35A.
But here is what could be a problem for Rafale in 2025 if F-35A can bring down its CPFH to $25,000 per flight hour in 2025 then the difference between both jets will come down to just $4,000 per flight when calculated for 300 average flight hours each aircraft might put each year.
CPFH difference will be just over $1.2 million per aircraft which will offset the expensive price tag that Rafale carries in the long run since Lockheed still wants to be cheaper than its current price tag by 2025 when it has sorted its issues with supply chain and its production output increases.
Dassault has been winning orders of late for its Rafale fighter jets but the production rate will barely touch 36 aircraft per year by 2025 which is only to cater to a backlog of orders that it has recently won. It’s not clear if Indian Made Rafale will cost less and how much per year it will manage to produce to meet 114 jets requirements for the IAF. But going by the experience of Made in India Sukhoi-30MKI that HAL had produced at a 30% higher cost, Rafale Made in India might see a marginal jump in its unit cost even if it is carried out by a local private sector company.
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