Imagine you’re President Joe Biden. You need $2 trillion dollars to fund one of your stated priorities – infrastructure. You learn of a war plane, the F-35 Lightning II, that would cost as much as $1.7 trillion to buy, field and maintain over the next 50 years. It’s $200 billion over budget, and more than ten years behind schedule. What do you do?
“Your first thought,” replies retired air force lieutenant colonel William Astore, “would probably be to cancel it, save more than a trillion dollars, and fund America’s infrastructure needs. Yet instead, the U.S. military is turning on the afterburners and going into full production. What gives?”
The F-35 program has weathered an endless string of complications: engines that are unreliable, an ultra expensive software program riddled with bugs, operating costs as much as 300% higher than those of the F-16 and the A-10. The list goes on. And so too goes the F-35. Why?
The answer, says Astore, is simple: the power of the military industrial complex. The F-35’s lead contractor, defense corporation Lockheed Martin, uses its well-oiled lobbying machine to insulate the program from political pressure. Lockheed Martin takes care to create jobs in 45 states and 307 congressional districts. In essence, writes Astore, “the F-35 program has become ‘too big to fail.’ At the Pentagon level, the plane is supposed to fulfill the needs of the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps for a “fifth generation” stealthy fighter. There is no alternative, or so you’re told.”
But there are alternatives. And in this case, ending the F-35 program is an appealing one. It would save billions of dollars, and signal to defense contractors that there are no rewards for failing to deliver on time and under budget.
No weapons system should be too big to fail. So, asks Astore, “Why continue that scandal? Why not end that tragedy? You can decide to send the strongest and clearest message to the military-industrial-congressional complex by cancelling the F-35. You can vow to reform the flawed system that produced it. And you can fund your vital infrastructure programs with the savings.”
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