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The F-35 Costs Even More When You Fly It

The bad news on the F-35 fighter jet is even worse than it sounds.

The cost of the program, already the most expensive weapons system the Pentagon has ever fielded, is estimated to climb further—to at least $406.5 billion. That’s according to a scoop by Bloomberg’s Anthony Capaccio, whose defense sourcing yielded advance access to a document called a Selected Acquisition Report. The report, which was submitted to Congress on Monday, estimates that procurement costs for the F-35 will come in about 7 percent higher than the last projection of $379 billion.

But acquisition—which refers to development and production of the futuristic planes—doesn’t tell the whole story. When operations and maintenance of the F-35 are factored in, the total will likely exceed $1.1 trillion over the decades to come. That reflects an increase of more than $35 billion. And that larger number could rise significantly if the Pentagon and the jet’s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin Corp., don’t address the F-35’s deteriorating reliability.

The idea that got the F-35 aloft in the first place is that eventually it would replace almost every fighter plane in use by the Marines Corps, Air Force, and Navy. Beginning with a basic model, each service has added special features, such as the ability of the Marines’ version to take off with very little runway and to land...