|There have been several threads recently discussing the capability and costs of different platforms/weapon systems in contested and uncontested operating environments.
The U.S. and it's allies have enjoyed complete air superiority from Day 1 of every operation since the late '60s. This will continue for every operation with the exception of a Peer-to-Peer engagement. Threat air forces will be eliminated/neutralized immediately if not beforehand, leaving SAMs and MANPADS as the primary threats. SAMs are vulnerable to counter-measures and stealth technologies as well as the increasing number and capabilities of drones. We can safely assume that even against a Syria or Iran the air environment will be relatively low-threat in short order, but we need top-of-the-line equipment during the initial weeks.
Clearly there are aircraft with far lower cost-per-sortie figures than F35s, or even f/a 18s once the threats have been largely neutralized. This is easy math do perform, even with considerations for having additional aircraft to support and maintain, and pilots to train/cross train. (Trainers with light attack capabilities like the A-29 ease this burden as they are in inventory anyway)
The second cost calculation is harder to perform: What is the cost/benefit of the deterrent effect of overwhelming force, especially in the face of Russia or China? And what are the potential costs of not giving the pilots and other crews of the Grade-A kit the experience of 'combat' in low-threat environments when the real deal erupts?