A strong contender in the sweepstakes for most wasteful procurement in history is the government’s 2001 order of 2,443 F-35 fighter jets for its armed forces at a final cost of $161 million each plus operating expenses.
The total cost for the jet program, which has ballooned an unbelievable 161,111 percent to $1.45 trillion (yes, that’s not a misprint) since 2009, when it was budgeted at just $900 million, is an absolute outrage that should have any taxpayer hopping mad and ready to march on Washington.
Even just one year ago, the cost of the jets was expected to be roughly $1 trillion, but that was before revised acquisition estimates. It is now by far the most expensive defense program in the history of the Pentagon.
It should be noted that these costs partially factor in inflation, which is expected to increase in the future, and they would be amortized over a 50-year period; at the same time, these are the kinds of numbers that often defy accurate prognostication.
And they may not be the final bill; delays, complexities, retrofits and/or unexpected hurdles could increase the figures from their already-astronomical levels. Inflation, which has been built into estimates, is notoriously difficult to predict, especially for a 50-year timeframe.
The supersonic, radar-evading warplanes are expected to have a lifespan of 33 years and will replace seven different models of existing jets that proponents say would cost nearly the equivalent to service and support for not as long a lifetime.
However, the Government Accounting Office disputes this and says the F-35 will be 79 percent more costly to operate than the aircraft it’s replacing; in addition, some aviation experts say the F-35 will be inferior to the F/A-18 and F-16 jets in terms of range, maneuverability and armament capability. In 2014, China announced it had developed an ability to defeat the F-35’s stealth features. One aviation analyst called the F-35 “flawed beyond redemption.”
It should be noted that of the F-35’s costs, $1.11 trillion would be just for maintenance and operation. Amazingly, both the government and Lockheed Martin, the defense contractor building the plane, say that the aircraft are being built “affordably,” and that there’s been an emphasis kept on reducing operating expenses.
But some telltale evidence to the contrary exists, such as the separation of the plane’s cost from that of its Pratt & Whitney engine, suggesting that talk of affordability is relative. Detractors say the plane is loaded with design flaws, and Lockheed Martin had been allowed to design, evaluate and produce the jets simultaneously instead of in steps as is normal in an aircraft’s development process.
One defense analyst, Loren Thompson, said that up to three-quarters of the cost increases of the plane were the result of the government changing the scope of the procurement program. Initially, the lifespan of the jets was targeted to be only 30 years, but then it was extended. The government also changed the number of military bases the jets would be stationed at from 33 to 49. “The program costs appear to be rising much faster than they actually are because the government keeps changing how it calculates things,” Thompson stated.
A recent change the government made was to delay delivery of 179 of the planes by five years, adding $60 billion to their cost simply due to inflation. By 2014, the jet program was seven years behind schedule and $163 billion over budget.
In 2009, various media outlets reported that spies had stolen plans for the plane; Lockheed Martin essentially denied it. In 2010, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates fired the manager of the F-35 program, Marine Corps Major General David Heinz. The next year, Gates said he would consider canceling the program if corrections to its estimating and cost overruns weren’t made.
Some defenders of the plane program point to the fact that foreign governments such as Australia, Norway, Denmark, Turkey, Italy, Canada and Great Britain also will be customers for the jet, but those commitments have now fallen from a total order of 730 planes to 697.
President-Elect Donald Trump is one of many people upset about the program’s expense. He recently tweeted, “The F-35 program cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th.” The stock of Lockheed Martin fell by roughly $4 billion (approximately 3.4 percent of its value) the same day.
As Trump sees it, one problem of programs like the F-35 is that the government officials who approve such costs often wind up working for the contractors producing the approved items shortly after the deals have been signed, leading many to believe deals are being cut and the government is effectively being cheated.
“The people that are making these deals for the government, they should never be allowed to go to work for these companies,” Trump stated. “You know, they make a deal like that, and two or three years later, you see them working for these companies that made the deal.”
It’s unknown if Trump wants to pass legislation that would outlaw such a practice or extend the number of years between an individual’s government service and potential hiring at a related contractor, but it’s commonly known that Trump would like to cut wasteful government spending whenever and wherever possible.
~ Liberty Planet