By: Jon Justice
These days, spending money is all the rage in Washington, D.C. The federal government is spending freely on COVID-19 stimulus, sending money directly to people and bailing out entire industries. Meanwhile, a big-spending infrastructure bill seems to be on the way as well.
Democrats have seemed to figure out a way around the filibuster to pass Biden’s latest $2.5 trillion spending spree that is called an infrastructure bill yet spends less than 10% of the package on roads, bridges and traditional infrastructure. Politico reported on April 7, 2021, “Senate Democrats touted a wonky budget ruling this week as empowering.” Democratic leaders in the Senate found a way to pass unlimited so called ‘Reconciliation Bills’ as part of the budgeting process as a way to end around the filibuster in the Senate. This makes it far easier for the party in power to hike up spending. With all this spending, it is time for some sane Members of Congress to dig for cuts.
At some point the bills for all this new federal spending will come due. The federal government will need to find some place to cut spending if it wants to keep offering COVID relief. Allow me to suggest the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as one program that ought to be on the chopping block.
The F-35 is a perfect example of a system that tried to do everything and ended up doing next to nothing. The program was launched in the 1990s and the F-35 was supposed to replace several different types of aircraft.
However, designing a plane that could attack over long distances (Air Force) support troops on the ground (Marines) and land on ships at sea (Navy) was trying to do more than any single plane could possibly do. Meanwhile, the Pentagon opted to put F-35s into action before it had worked out the bugs, so for years in the past, and probably forever in the future, the military has had to keep spending to retrofit the F-35 when its systems didn’t perform.
It all adds up to the most expensive weapon program ever. “Flying the F-35 currently costs $36,000 per hour, and it has a projected lifetime cost, through its projected life span of 2065, of $1.7 trillion,” a Florida newspaper reported earlier this year.
Those costs aren’t expected to come down much in the future. Sure, “The plane’s builder, Lockheed Martin, claims that it could reduce operating costs to $25,000 per hour by 2025 — but only if it’s awarded an exclusive maintenance contract,” as NBC News reported. It added that, “The Pentagon appears to be rightly skeptical.”
Our military is even paying to fix planes it doesn’t own. “The F-35 program is undergoing a ‘Block 4’ upgrade costing at least $12.1 billion that’s intended to correct past deficiencies and introduce new capabilities in six-month increments through 2026 to keep up with current threats,” Bloomberg reported last year. “The plan includes retrofitting some planes already built and in use by militaries from the U.S. and the U.K. to Japan.” The U.S simply can’t afford this extravagant spending during an ongoing economic emergency.
NBC says the Air Force, Marines and Navy are looking to other aircraft to help them cut their losses from the F-35’s failures. Meanwhile, policymakers in both parties agree the program is a failure. Cracking down on the F-35 seems like the rare example of bipartisanship working in Washington.
“What does the F-35 give us? And is there a way to cut our losses? Is there a way to not keep spending that much money for such a low capability because, as you know, the sustainment costs are brutal,” Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said in Washington this year. Back in January, President Trump’s final Acting Secretary of Defense, Chris Miller, called the F-35 “the case study” in weapon acquisition failure.
Congressman Smith is ready to move on. “We have wasted a spectacular amount of money on weapons systems that either haven’t worked at all or who have not lived up to their promise,” Smith said. “The failure we wind up tolerating is failure on a massive freaking scale.” He’s right. Policymakers should cancel the F-35 and invest in better, less expensive weapon systems. With the costs piling up, the U.S. cannot afford to wait.
Jon Justice is a talk host at KTLK Minneapolis and author of the sci-fi series EMBARK available at www.MyNerdWorld.net