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The Military Government The Almighty Buck United States

The Pentagon's $399 Billion Plane To Nowhere 364

Posted by Soulskill
from the flights-of-fancy dept.
schwit1 writes with an update on the U.S. government's troubled F-35 program, the cost of which keeps rising while the planes themselves are grounded. A fire in late June caused officials to halt flights for the entire fleet of $112 million vehicles last week. Despite this, Congress is still anxious to push the program forward, and Foreign Policy explains why: Part of that protection comes from the jaw-dropping amounts of money at stake. The Pentagon intends to spend roughly $399 billion to develop and buy 2,443 of the planes. However, over the course of the aircrafts' lifetimes, operating costs are expected to exceed $1 trillion. Lockheed has carefully hired suppliers and subcontractors in almost every state to ensure that virtually all senators and members of Congress have a stake in keeping the program — and the jobs it has created — in place. "An upfront question with any program now is: How many congressional districts is it in?" said Thomas Christie, a former senior Pentagon acquisitions official. Counting all of its suppliers and subcontractors, parts of the program are spread out across at least 45 states. That's why there's no doubt lawmakers will continue to fund the program even though this is the third time in 17 months that the entire fleet has been grounded due to engine problems."
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The Pentagon's $399 Billion Plane To Nowhere

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @04:41PM (#47419629)
    The whole program should be scrapped. It's time to cut the losses on this boondoggle. Lots of states will lose jobs? Oh well, guess you idiots shouldn't have fucked up the program so royally if you wanted to hang on to those jobs. Trust me, the money will be spent somewhere else and there will be jobs to be had there. Let's build a dozen nuclear power plants for starters and go from there.
  • by EMG at MU (1194965) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @04:46PM (#47419681)
    Everybody with an IQ above that of a jellybean knows the main job of the congresscritters is to bring back the pork. The blue guys do it and the red guys do it.

    The reason they can keep doing it and no one really gives a shit is because once you explain to Joe Schmoe that cutting program X or agency Y's budget means he or his cousin or his drinking buddy could lose their job, well Joe can rationalize keeping that program.

    Americans all want pork cut everywhere except their home district. We are short sighted, have short memories, and aren't willing to endure short term discomfort in the pursuit of long term prosperity.

    Anyone candidate that would be for cutting this kind of corporate welfare isn't viable on a national ticket. Eisenhower was right about this all by the way.
  • by raymorris (2726007) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @04:48PM (#47419701)

    The F-35 probably shouldn't have been built. At least, it shouldn't have been built the way it was. "Been built" is the key phrase. Most of the excess cost is already sunk. Nine countries have signed on to buy it. We can't reverse time and get the money back, and starting over from scratch would both a) cost more and b) lose most of the partner countries, meaning the US would pay more of the cost.

    Yes, maintaining planes costs money, and the F-35 is no exception. Is someone suggesting that the US should have no planes? Of course not, so maintenance costs will be incurred. There's no choice to be made there. I suppose we could spend nearly as much trying to keep F-15s flying. Would that be better?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @04:56PM (#47419769)

    D-Day, something Eisenhower probably knew something about, wouldn't have happened without industrial production of military might.

    Yes. D-Day happened.

    Then we kept pumping money into the military.

    Then we started looking for wars to pick to justify the spending.

  • by crgrace (220738) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @04:57PM (#47419799)

    You seem to misunderstand what sunk cost means. You're using the phrase as an argument to keep funding the project because "we can't reverse time and get the money back". In fact, the common definition of the sunk cost is opposite of your use. Generally only future costs should be relevant to an investment decision, otherwise you run into the danger of "throwing good money after bad". There is a lot of evidence that continued funding of the F-35 is in fact throwing good money after bad.

    You also present a false dichotomy. One alternative option from spending upwards of a Trillion dollars on the F-35 is to manufacture more smaller, cheaper, proven fighters such as the F-18 or indeed the F-15. Keeping our current squadrons operable is less of an issue if we build more at lower cost.

  • by Duhavid (677874) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @05:19PM (#47420027)

    You cannot continue to go out and fight with older weapons though.
    Nominally, the F-15/F-16/F-18 are not as survivable in a modern air war.
    A proven fighter is one that has been through the teething problems that the F-35 is going through now.
    It may well be that it would be better to start over, but we would then have to start another project, because the above mentioned fighters are getting long in the tooth.

  • Re:Capabilities (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shoten (260439) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @05:24PM (#47420093)

    This article doesn't mention the incredible upgrades of the F-35. It has incredible situational awareness (SA), highly networked to acquire SA from all sources, sensors onboard to provide SA, smaller that the F-22, more stealthy, and a range of other characteristics that the pentagon desires (wiki [wikipedia.org]). Those capabilities are the top reason for the F-35 to exist at all. As development has progressed, then the money problems and failures came up as they always do. The capability needs don't justify the failures of the program, but they need to be taken into consideration when there's talk of changing or canceling the program.

    Everyone has a different concern. Congressmen are probably concerned about money staying in their state to stay elected. The Pentagon is worried about capability and not being embarrassed over a big failure. The tax payers are worried about not wasting money and some of them about keeping an F-35 job. It's a complicated issue with lots of caveats.

    Ah, excellent points. If only we'd have had these planes in Iraq and Afghanistan, we'd have...oh, wait a minute. NOTHING WOULD HAVE CHANGED.

    Our weak points do not hinge on air superiority. The current aircraft with our current pilots are demonstrably far and above better than anyone else on the planet. Yes, we do need to plan ahead...but is a radical new level of sophistication important and/or useful? Consider that no other nation on the planet retains even the ability to project power over distance from their home country, absent an ally where they can stage aircraft. The Russians have one aircraft carrier (the Kuznetsov) which is a steaming pile of shit that's only ever been out 4 times, and never far from home. It lacks catapults, so as a result aircraft that fly from it must go light on both munitions and fuel. It suffers from massive problems with its power plant, and is unreliable. The Chinese have a carrier too...but no ships to support it. Oh, and it's a carbon copy of the Kuznetsov and heads have rolled among the people who managed the purchase of it from the Russians. So it's shit too.

    Meanwhile, Congress is doing all they can to axe...the A-10. The A-10 Warthog has killed more tanks than any other weapon in our arsenal, not to mention how many soldiers it's saved via close air support missions. It's universally loved among the pilots who fly it and the troops who have been protected by it, it's tried and true, and it's cheap as hell. Simple, rugged, incredibly durable even when shot to bits and indescribably lethal to ground targets, it's a much better indication of the kind of aircraft role that will be central to future conflicts we face.

    So yeah...the F-35 has all sorts of whiz-bang cool stuff, stuff that we don't need, while being unreliable, insanely wasteful of money, and the wrong place for our primary focus to go for the future of war.

  • by Savage-Rabbit (308260) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @05:25PM (#47420097)

    The F-35 replaced the A-10 Thunderbolt II's role as a tank buster, CAS bomber...

    With the money we have spent on the F-35s to date, we could have repaired, retrofitted, and maintained our supply of A-10s for several decades. Hell, the A-10 is practically a flying tank. It has some of the best armament and is the most rugged fixed-wing aircraft which America has. It was a ridiculously short-sighted move to replace it with another overexpensive "multi role, joint" fighter.

    Yeah, F-35s replacing the A-10 good luck with that. The idea of the F-35 flying into the operational environment of the A-10, i.e. 0-3000ft which in a real shooting war is likely to be saturated by scrap fire and dominated by Manpads, full blown SAMs and mobile Flak such as Shilkas [wikipedia.org] and Tunguskas [wikipedia.org] and having the same survial rates as the A-10 always struck me as funny. Stealth is pretty much useless down there most of the kills are done with heat seeking missiles and the good old Mk.1 eyeball. Experience has shown several times now that no matter how many smart weapons they cook up there is no replacement for getting in good and close and blasting the shit out of the target with a 30mm gun.

  • by EnglishTim (9662) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @05:27PM (#47420125)

    Just buy some Eurofighters...

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @05:34PM (#47420193) Journal
    When these politicians give tax payer money to private companies to create "jobs" the tax payers get such a raw deal.

    If we just put the trillion in the bank at 4% interest rate, you would get 40 billion dollars a year, It could pay 1 million people 40K a year. None of these projects ever create even a large fraction of a million jobs. Even if it uses the money to hire half million people to dig a trench and the other half to close it up it would provide greater economic impact to the economy than such boondongles.

  • by bobbied (2522392) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @05:35PM (#47420199)

    Haven't done any government work lately eh? All programs like this are politically important and have to be managed as such.

    Many aircraft projects are insanely expensive ventures and the F-35 is no exception. Many have serious issues, the F-35 is not the first nor will it be the last. It is the nature of the problem. The F4U (Corsair) had serious handling problems, the F6F Hellcat had serious performance issues, yet both where put into production because they where the best tools we had at the time and they filled the need.

    In the case of the F-35, the problems are many and mostly government created, but the aircraft serves the need for replacing the AV8-B, F-15, F-16 and F18 as the front line of all the services that fly fixed wing. But, It's very early to decide that the F35 is a lost cause. Do we need to hold the contractor(s) feet to the fire? You bet. but there IS NO OTHER OPTION. Development of other options will be another insanely expensive exercise, as would going back and building more of the decades old aircraft it is designed to replace. So, we go forward..... Any other option will cost more at this point, so we are going to spend what it takes. Lockheed knows this.

    Unless of course you don't mind not having an air force, close air support or the ability to launch fighters/attach aircraft from carriers in the near future..... I'm not willing to go down that route again because the last time we tried the unilateral disarmament approach it resulted in a pretty messy world war or two... It seems cheaper to pay Lockheed for the F35 now...

  • by NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @05:38PM (#47420225)
    So, 4.5% of this ONE SINGLE Defense Department program, then. Yeah. I see your point. /sarcasm
  • by ron_ivi (607351) <[sdotno] [at] [cheapcomplexdevices.com]> on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @05:41PM (#47420253)

    Lots of states will lose jobs?

    They don't even lose jobs.

    The money their taxpayers save can be spent locally creating the same amount (measured in dollars) of jobs that it would have if the money makes a round trip through the federal government along the way.

  • by rahvin112 (446269) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @05:47PM (#47420307)

    And most important of all and ignored totally by everyone is that every single plane the airforce has ever developed had these same growing pains. They all have massive cost overruns, groundings and unexplained crashes.

    They've spent the bulk of the money quoted for the planes. All those R&D dollars are gone. At this point the planes cost about $120 million a piece to build, which isn't that much more than an F-18. That's nothing, but because they include the R&D that's already spent you end up with dollar amounts that look massive. The less we buy the higher the amortized costs are.

    The F-35 is likely to be the last manned fighter ever produced. We've signed almost a dozen countries up to buy some and spread the costs out. It's going to totally streamline all the parts acquisition and maintenance and leave us with a single plane that handles almost every manned role. In time robotic aircraft or drones are going to take over all the dangerous roles. But that time is still decades off and we need something to keep our defense better than everyone else until that point. Air power and navy are two areas I have no problem with out government spending money on. They can be used to deny an enemy entry to the Americas and our separation from the Asian continent is one of the things that provides our best protection.

  • by mtrachtenberg (67780) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @06:10PM (#47420473) Homepage

    If you can't stand these priorities, please consider signing this: http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/help-arriving-children

    Please let me explain what I am thinking in distributing this petition. I believe that Americans, like people everywhere, truly want to help others. But somehow, through a combination of fear and the greed of a few people, we no longer show this value in our government's budget. Instead, we spend more than $600 billion a year to fund the world's biggest military and the companies that build weapons, while sometimes thinking we cannot afford simple humanitarian programs.

    If Americans understood what we could buy for ourselves and our neighbors with just one percent of the military budget, I truly believe we'd shift our funding. One percent of our military budget could fund sixty $100,000,000 projects at home or around the world. And, with Central American kids risking their lives to travel to our borders, the need is evident.

    Some of us sometimes worry that welfare programs go to "undeserving" people. This is a time when, regardless of our beliefs about whether welfare works, we can easily see that people deserve our help and support -- these are kids fleeing poverty and danger.

    Groups like The Moral Majority have poisoned the word "moral" for many people I know. But true morality has nothing to do with conservative religious groups. True morality is using our wealth to help our neighbors in distress, not to further build an already oversized military. True morality is not turning our backs.

    And I further feel we find our own safety in true morality. A nation that is extending its arms to help others is less likely to be attacked than a nation that demonstrates concern only that the wealthiest 0.01% of the world not pay their fair share of the bills.

    Thanks for spreading the word!

  • by El_Oscuro (1022477) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @06:12PM (#47420487) Homepage

    The parent is wrong. Nothing has replaced the A-10. The Pentagon tried to kill the Warthog earilier this year until everyone who actually uses them screamed bloody murder.

    This fricken plane is airworthy with half a wing and an engine missing. Could the F-35 do that?

    The Iraqis don't want us to send troops over there to deal with the ISIS business. They have plenty of troops of their own. What they have asked for is some air support. Immagine what a couple of A-10 squadrons would do there..

  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @06:18PM (#47420527)

    Blame the voters - they put those politicians into office.

    Voters that work at Lockheed or associated sub-contractors... Other voters that sell stuff to the first set of voters... Ultimately, we'll all be directly or indirectly building F-35s. It's turtles all the way down. [wikipedia.org]

  • by AHuxley (892839) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @06:47PM (#47420723) Homepage Journal
    China would throw 10x as many half assed shitboxes and still win. They need to be cheap and reliable
    Russia and China learned a lot for their well placed spies in the US during Vietnam and later the Soviet Unions experiences in Afghanistan. You dont get a clean airstrip, you get crumbling cement, you dont get moderate temperatures. You dont get to slow fast fighters down, you dont get to go low and see all with the new fast kit you had for the next war.
    So you have to invest in a lot of different kit, that looks after the crew and lets you fly a varied missions with the crew returning.
    The US has tried to focus on emerging electronics and packing multiple roles into one export winner.
    Can expensive mercenaries and contractors flying networked drones really fill in the hours and ammo count when other established systems are replaced by the one export winner?
  • Not a boondoggle (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rsilvergun (571051) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @07:08PM (#47420875)
    It's just socialism. This is how we do socialism in the United States. We don't have enough work for people to do any more. Too much outsourcing and too much automation. So we either start letting people die in the streets or we start redistributing wealth.

    Thing is we spend most of the 50s-90s talking about how Socialism is Evil (tm) . It's heavily engrained in our populace. So we needed a form of Socialism that Americans could stomach. Enter the "Military Industrial Complex". Eisenhower built it up out of fear of another recession and regretted it. It pretty much warps our entire society...
  • by bobbied (2522392) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @07:13PM (#47420905)

    Starting over is the right choice.

    I don't think so. If you think we've spent too much already, doing all this again would be even more expensive than it was the first time. Perhaps replacing Lockheed as prime would help? Perhaps just the threat of doing that would be enough? There are a lot of options short of starting over that we really should try before sending the F35 to the scrap heap. This program has problems, but the whole system isn't total junk or fundamentally flawed. This is like a house where the foundation is sound, the structure is good, but the fixtures have issues and the paint job is botched. It can be fixed, things will get worked out.

    The problem here is that we have 30+ year old designs in the field now which are rapidly becoming obsolete and have exactly ONE option for mufti role utility aircraft to replace them. A new program would take a decade and blow billions more dollars before we'd be where we are now. Perhaps they could start with the F35 design and shave a few years and some dollars off, but a new program (or programs) would just burn through more money. In the mean time, we'd be trying to beat the rivets back into the F-15, F-18 etc to keep the wings on and just taking the AV8B's out of service (no rivets in composite wings) and buying spares for another 20 years of service. I don't think it's a good idea to try and fly what we got for another 15 years and hope for the best while we throw good money after bad on some other program.

    So... It might be time to start a new project but it's NOT time to ditch F35 production. I just don't see us having any other options.

  • by fustakrakich (1673220) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @08:07PM (#47421185) Journal

    ...we have 30+ year old designs in the field now which are rapidly becoming obsolete...

    Compared to what? Everybody else's 40+ year old design? We fly 60+ year old bombers that still outperform anything built since.

    mufti role utility aircraft

    "Swiss Army Airplanes" usually don't perform as well as expected. The Harrier being the exception.

  • by jeIIomizer (3670945) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @05:38AM (#47423045)

    There is a strong consensus among economists

    Does anyone still take economists seriously? They're even worse than psychologists.

  • by bobbied (2522392) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @10:17AM (#47424403)

    The Harrier being the exception.

    On that I disagree. The Harrier had it's issues too, some really SERIOUS issues which caused us to loose a number of airframes. I am very aware of these because I worked on this aircraft as an electrical engineer back in the late 80's trying to fix some of them. They had engine problems, wiring problems, software problems and even operational (what switches you put in what positions when) issues to work out. We got grounded a number of times for some of these.

    All aircraft have these kinds of issues, especially military only designs like the AV8B and F35. We should not be surprised when they pop up.

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