Monday, December 22, 2008

NYT Offers Defense Budget Tips. Shoots Self In Foot.

Although I'm no military expert, I am a keen student of military history. I follow US weapons program development pretty closely out of curiosity and because of their penchant for fraud and waste.

The NY Times editorial board lays out their plan to cut the US Defense budget. Their research comes off as shaky. NYT heralds the troubled, most expensive program ever as cost saving.

Kicking off their list:

End production of the Air Force’s F-22. The F-22 was designed to ensure victory in air-to-air dogfights with the kind of futuristic fighters that the Soviet Union did not last long enough to build. The Air Force should instead rely on its version of the new high-performance F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which comes into production in 2012 and like the F-22 uses stealth technology to elude enemy radar.

Until then, it can use upgraded versions of the F-16, which can outperform anything now flown by any potential foe. The F-35 will provide a still larger margin of superiority. The net annual savings: about $3 billion.
The NYT needs to check their facts and their math. The F-22 was a colossal mistake but the F-35 is neither a fix nor a bargain. Not even our allies are sold on the F-35. Sept. 14, 2008's Sydney Morning Herald called the "$151m Planes 'A Disaster'":
Fresh doubts have been thrown on Australia's most costly military project in history after aviation experts slammed the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as a "disaster" that lacks power and punch.

An article in Janes Defence Weekly last week said the F-35 was "overweight and underpowered", lacked manoeuvrability, could not carry enough bombs, was too delicate to withstand ground fire and was overpriced.

Sure doesn't sound like this plane is the answer. It's not just the F-35 performance that's in question, It's price is no bargain whatever the cost. And I do mean whatever the cost.

Earlier this year, the Pentagon touted a $1 billion drop (or about $400,000 per) on the price tag for the 2500 F-35s ordered for the Navy, Air Force & Marines. However, at the same time Bloomberg News noted GAO auditors had a vastly different read:

The cost of Lockheed Martin's Joint Strike Fighter, already the most expensive weapons program ever, is projected to increase as much as $38 billion, congressional auditors said yesterday.

That would bring the price of 2,458 F-35s to $337 billion, 45 percent more than estimated when the program began in October 2001.

"Midway through development, the program is over cost and behind schedule," Michael J. Sullivan, director of acquisition and sourcing management for the Government Accountability Office, told two panels of the House Armed Services Committee that oversee military spending.

Personally, I trust GAO accounting over the Pentagon's balance sheet every single time. Bloomberg continues:

The 12-year development of the fighter jet is entering its most challenging phase, including test flights, completing the software, finishing design of the three F-35 models and refining manufacturing processes at Lockheed and its subcontractors.

Sullivan said the Pentagon has identified billions of dollars in unfunded requirements, continued delays and "substantial" production inefficiency by Lockheed and engine-maker Pratt & Whitney that will increase costs.

At $337 billion, the Joint Strike Fighter's price would be more than twice that of the Pentagon's second-most expensive weapons program, the $160 billion Future Combat System.

As expensive and wasteful as the F-35 project has been over the past 12 years, we still don't really don't know how this turkey will fly. It wasn't until last month, on it's 69th test flight, that the F-35 finally flew supersonic -- for eight minutes. If Lockheed Martin is to be believed, this fighter won't be delivered until 2012.

Conceived over a decade ago, both the F-22 & the F-35 are ill-suited to 21st century warfare. Both programs should be scrapped. We should start over incorporating the best technology of the F-22 & the F-35 in a new design. As the Times pointed out, "upgraded" versions of the F-16 are plenty adequate for now.

Will Obama and the Pentagon have the courage to admit the F-22 & F-35 programs are a mistake and start over?