Sunday, July 12, 2009

The F-22 Lemon

Earlier today I suggested a way to save a little money in the federal budget so we could afford to provide universal health care access. After spending a few hours reading the news on-line, I've found another, equally as valid way. Cancellation of the F-22 program.

The F-22 is this hot-stuff new fighter plane that was designed yarons ago to offset the advances the military thought the Soviet Union was making in their fighter plane program. That, by the way, was more than 25 years ago. Since then, the Soviet Union has, well, dissolved, along with a lot of their plans for hot-stuff fighter planes and other military hardware. That doesn't seem to bother a lot of folks tied into the military-industrial-complex here in the US. They still want that damned plane and they still want to spend billions on the program, even though the plane is, by all accounts, a freakin' lemon.

Now, when I speak of folks tied into the military-industrial-complex, I'm not talking about just the CEO of Lockheed-Martin and the CEOs of the subcontractors (including Boeing), I'm talking about members of Congress, including such Democratic luminaries as Sen. Ted Kennedy, Sen. John Kerry, and New Hampshire Rep. Paul Hodes, all of whom are willing to fight President Obama over the issue, according to this article in the Boston Globe.

Now, the reason President Obama wants to cancel the program is that his Secretary of Defense, Robert M. Gates, and most sane people in the Pentagon don't want the hot-stuff new plane. It's expensive, was designed for warfare that is a thing of the past, and it just doesn't work. On Friday, the Washington Post contained a lengthy article which detailed the costs and the failures of the plane:

The United States' top fighter jet, the Lockheed Martin F-22, has recently required more than 30 hours of maintenance for every hour in the skies, pushing its hourly cost of flying to more than $44,000, a far higher figure than for the warplane it replaces, confidential Pentagon test results show. ...

While most aircraft fleets become easier and less costly to repair as they mature, key maintenance trends for the F-22 have been negative in recent years, and on average from October last year to this May, just 55 percent of the deployed F-22 fleet has been available to fulfill missions guarding U.S. airspace, the Defense Department acknowledged this week. The F-22 has never been flown over Iraq or Afghanistan.

And what does this do to the cost of the program? Well, the Globe article provides some astounding numbers:

One defense analyst estimates that $65 billion has been spent on the F-22 program to date; the price tag for each of the stealth fighters, designed during the Cold War for the next generation of air-to-air combat, is about $200 million.

That's $200 million per plane before it gets put into use. As the WaPo article points out, the costs rise astronomically once the plane leaves the ground.

So why are normally sane Democrats fighting so hard for this losing program?


This is pork, pure and simple. Now, I'm of the opinion that pork isn't necessarily such a bad thing, but only under the right circumstances. This just isn't one of those times. I recognize that right now, unemployment is through the roof as a result of our economic collapse, but why should we spend money and precious effort on a program that doesn't work, that will never work, and that the recipient of the taxpayers' largess, the Pentagon, doesn't want? Surely there are other ways to put Americans back to work, even at these companies, that make more sense.

Instead of spending a trillion dollars (there's that number again) on a project that is useless, how about we spend it in ways that will grow the economy and will provide collateral benefits to the entire nation. Why can't these companies build rail carriages and buses that are currently being purchased from Europe and Asia to make public transportation a viable option for Americans, thereby reducing our reliance on foreign oil and cleaning up the environment. Why can't their engineers design a power transmission grid, and then build it, so that alternative sources of energy can light our homes and run our factories?

More importantly, why can't this money be spent in ways that ensure the health and welfare of the entire nation, say in (oh, I don't know) maybe universal access to health care.

I guess it's a matter of whose bottom line is more important.

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Blogger Karen said...

My brother builds airplanes for Raytheon - has most of his adult life. He doesn't want to build something else, and the company would never do it anyway. *sigh* There's just no easy answers

7:44 PM  

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