In a letter to the editor, a reader responded to my last article, calling me shortsighted because I said that that Congress appropriates money for weapons the Pentagon doesn’t want. But he overlooked the point of my article, instead reinforcing my contention that much of the spending is simply a jobs program: he wants us to “consider the skilled workers,” and the “hundreds of facilities across the nation.” That was exactly my point.
Let me add that the disagreement between the Army and Congress about the M-1 tank goes back to 2012, when Raymond T. Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff until 2015, testified that “we don’t need the tanks. Our tank fleet is two and a half years old on average now. We’re in good shape and these are additional tanks that we don’t need.” Travis Sharp a fellow at the defense think tank New American Security, wrote, “When a relatively conservative institution like the U.S. military, which doesn’t like to take risks because risks get people killed, says it has enough tanks, I think generally civilians should be inclined to believe them.” In other words, thanks, but no tanks.
The reader suggested I do further research about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet. I found that the Defense Department’s annual Operational Testing Report for fiscal year 2018 shows that the entire F-35 program, the most expensive weapon system in history, is still failing. For example, “…on April 11, 2018, after nearly 10 years of flight testing…the program had 941 open deficiencies – either in work or under investigation,” and “Reliability and maintainability metrics…are not meeting interim goals needed to reach requirements at maturity.”
Touted in 2001 as a relatively inexpensive, multi-purpose fighter to be the primary new combat airplane for the Air Force, the Marine Corps, and the Navy, at a promised $38 million per plane, the F-35 now costs an average $158 million each. And yet, the F-35 Joint Program Office is sticking with its current schedule, which would have the program starting production of the entire fleet by the end of this year, despite hundreds of critical, unresolved design flaws.
And then there’s NASA. The huge rocket Boeing’s been building for NASA under contract is behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. With $5.3 billion already spent, NASA expects Boeing to reach the contract’s limit of $6.2 billion this year, nearly 3 years before the contract is supposed to end, and with nothing to show for it. Worse yet, there is no way the rocket is going to be ready for a scheduled maiden launch in June 2020; one estimate had the rocket launch as late as November 2021. NASA’s leaders are furious; Trump reportedly wanted NASA to pull off something big and bold involving human spaceflight – sending an unmanned capsule around the moon, leading to an eventual return of American astronauts to the moon’s surface – before the 2020 election, but the latest delays would push the flight well past the election.
NASA also awarded Boeing a $4.2 billion contract in 2014 to build the Starliner capsule to fly astronauts to the International Space Station. The latest date for the first flight of the Starliner, a test mission without astronauts on board, was to be in April, which was already pushed back repeatedly. Now the first flight is going to be delayed until at least August. That would push the first flight with humans on board to no earlier than November, but the company may be forced to push the flight into 2020 if Boeing discovers any more problems with the spacecraft.
Does the conservatives’ refrain “waste, fraud, and abuse” come to mind?
The proposed fiscal year 2020 Pentagon budget of $750 billion would be the largest in American history. Earlier this month, Dan Grazier of the Center for Defense Information at the Project on Government Oversight – one of several groups working towards a more disciplined approach to Pentagon budgeting that would ultimately result in a more effective military force – appeared before the House Committee on Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Defense about the defense budget. He testified as follows: “It’s understandable that many people equate larger defense budgets with a more capable military. Common sense suggests that appropriating more money to the Pentagon would allow the services to buy more of the equipment they think they need to equip the force. Unfortunately, history has repeatedly shown that, when the services have increased budgets, they make poor decisions about the equipment they select. All of the services are burdened by poorly conceived acquisition programs, most of which were instituted in the years immediately following the September 11 terrorist attacks at a time when Congress, in a rush of patriotic sentiments, greatly increased defense budgets with the ostensible purpose of defeating the immediate threat to our way of life.”
If we’re to have multi-billion-dollar jobs programs, let’s use the money for health care, education, infrastructure, and climate change mitigation.