The F-35 is the most expensive
defense program in history, and reveals massive cost overruns, a lack of clear
strategic thought, and a culture in Washington that encourages incredible waste.
Money is pouring into the F-35
vortex. In 2010, Pentagon officials found that the cost of each plane had
soared by over 50 percent above the original projections. The program has
fallen years behind schedule, causing billions of dollars of additional
expense, and won't be ready until 2016. An internal Pentagon report concluded
that: "affordability is no longer embraced as a core pillar."
In January 2011, even Defense
Secretary Robert Gates, a champion of the aircraft, voiced his frustration:
"The culture of endless money that has taken hold must be replaced by a culture
The F-35 is meant to be the future
of U.S. tactical airpower, but the program harks back to the Cold War, when we
faced an aggressive great power rival.
The world has changed. The odds of
great power war have declined dramatically. We still need a deterrent capacity
against China and Russia, but how much is enough? In a decade's time, the
United States plans to have 15 times as many modern fighters as China, and 20
times as many as Russia.
Meanwhile, new challenges and
threats have emerged. We should be focusing our military spending on the types
of campaigns that we're actually likely to face: complex asymmetric wars
against weaker opponents, where manpower and intelligence are critical.
And it's hard to
square the military largesse with our rampant debt. Republicans want to slash
billions from programs like early education, in Representative Jeb Hensarling's
words, to "save our children from bankruptcy."
So where is the outrage at the
F-35's outlandish cost?
Some just don't seem to care. When
it comes to defense, Republicans are the champions of big government and
massive expenditure. The F-35 is too big to fail.
At the same time, many Democrats
keep quiet for fear of looking weak on defense--unless, like Senator Bernie
Sanders, they're from Vermont.
Other politicians are bought off
with pork. Defense suppliers are spread throughout dozens of states, giving
everyone a reason to look the other way.
Any serious effort to balance the
federal budget will require significant cuts in defense spending. And the F-35
is a prime target.
The 2010 bipartisan Bowles-Simpson
Commission on deficit reduction suggested canceling the Marine Corps's version
of the F-35, and halving the number of F-35s for the Air Force and
Navy--replacing them with current generation F-16s, which cost one-third as
much. This would save close to $30 billion from 2011 to 2015.
The plan went nowhere.
We used to be content to outspend
Australia on aircraft. Now we literally spend Australia on aircraft.
Photo: Reuters/Ho New