In the January/February 2015 Atlantic, James Fallows argues that a specific example of flawed defense decision-making, under what he calls "Chickenhawk Nation" circumstances, involves the contrasting fates of two military aircraft. One is the Air Force's A-10 attack plane, nicknamed the "Warthog." The other is a multi-service airplane that was originally called the "joint strike fighter" and now is known as the F-35 "Lightning II." The A-10—which is relatively cheap, highly reliable and battle-tested, and designed for the specific task of flying low and slow over a battlefield so as to support U.S. and allied troops—is being phased out. Much of the money is going to what the article describes as the over-budget, past-schedule, too-complex, problem-plagued F-35.
The article points out that the Department of Defense strongly disputes these views, and says that we will offer links to documents pro and con about these airplanes and other relevant defense issues. Here they are:
I. The Gary Hart Commission memo. As the article discusses, in 2011 Barack Obama asked former Senator Gary Hart, who in the 1980s had been a leader in the “defense reform” movement, to convene a small group and offer recommendations on how a reelected President Obama might work lasting changes on the Pentagon. Read the summary memo, “Bending the Arc of Military History.”
Hart remained in contact with the administration and in 2014 was appointed a special negotiator for Northern Ireland. But, as the article says, he heard no follow-up on these points.
II. Official arguments in favor of the F-35 and against the A-10
- “Uncle Sam Builds an Airplane,” a June 2002 Atlantic article by James Fallows, summarizing the reasoning behind the F-35, backed when it was intended to be the solution to the Pentagon's budget problems rather than another illustration of them
- The main project page for the F-35 on the Pentagon’s site, with information about its progress
- A report from the Pentagon’s comptroller on the costs of the A-10, the F-35, and other significant programs
- "F-35 on time to delivery global security," an Air Force presentation from September, 2014, featuring Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan, the executive officer of the F-35 program
- “The F-35 Is on Track,” a Pentagon video from July 2014
- “F-35 Engine Fix Coming,” a Pentagon news release from October 2014
- “F-35 Production on Track,” a positive report from Bogdan in 2013
- A 2009 press release from then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates arguing that the F-35 was “the heart of future tactical combat aviation”
- A 2010 press release by a Navy admiral arguing that “the Navy needs the F-35’s capabilities”
- A similar argument from the Air Force chief of staff, General Mark Welsh, in 2013
- A 2012 Pentagon announcement that the F-35 would be a “big leap” in fighter-plane capabilities
- A 2014 Pentagon announcement that cost-overruns were being reduced
- A 2012 Pentagon announcement about the strategic importance of the F-35 and the F-22
- A 2014 Air Force announcement on why the A-10 had to be cut while the F-35 went ahead
- A similar story from 2013, from the Air Force, on the need to cut the A-10 in favor of the F-35
III. Arguments and analyses on the other side, about the importance of the A-10 and the ongoing failures of the F-35
- “The A-10 Warthog: A Core Defense Issue Washington Can No Longer Ignore,” a compendium of links and references on the two aircraft by the Straus Military Reform Project of the Project of Government Oversight (POGO)
- “Should the Air Force Retire the A-10? A Seminar on a Seminal Subject,” a 2013 tradeoff analysis by the very influential former Pentagon budget analyst Chuck Spinney
- “On the Road to a Hollow Military,” by Chuck Spinney, in 2014
- “Three Reports on the F-35, One of Them Informative,” by the Project on Government Oversight in 2014
- Analyst Eric Palmer's annotations on Time magazine’s “Battleland” 2013 series
- “Airmen at Odds with Air Force Brass Over Future of Beloved A-10 Plane,” a 2014 PBS Newshour feature
- "Newest U.S. Stealth Fighter '10 Years Behind' Older Jets," a Daily Beast report this week on sensor problems with the F-35.
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