Lou Dubose / The Washington Spectator – 2009-04-24 08:58:13
WASHINGTON (April 15, 2009) — It’s no secret that Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants to close out production of the F-22. Gates has been a critic of the bells-and-whistles guys in the Pentagon, has argued against Cold War weapons systems, and in June fired the fighter jet’s most outspoken advocates—Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and Chief of Staff T. Michael Moseley.
The F-22 was designed more than twenty years ago as a Cold War weapons platform. When the first prototype of the fighter rolled out of the hangar in 1997, the enemy it was designed to fight, the Soviet Union, had been gone for six years. The Air Force wanted 750 F-22s, but the disappearance of the Soviet Union (and economic reality) drove those numbers down to 438, then 381. Only 183 have been ordered, of which 123 have been delivered. Air Force brass insist that every plane on order is essential to the nation’s defense. It appears that twenty more planes will be delivered—unless production is stopped.
The F-22 is the most expensive fighter ever built, with a total price tag when research-and-development costs are taken into account, of approximately $350 million per plane. It has never flown a single combat mission. Two were lost in crashes, one during testing at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada in 2004 and another on March 25 of this year near Andrews Air Force Base in Southern California, where it was flown by a Lockheed test pilot.
The fighter was designed to use stealth technology to penetrate radar and engage in aerial dogfights with Soviet fighters. It was to be retrofitted with air-to-ground weapons to make it more versatile. It is also tens of billions of dollars over budget, according Massachusetts Democratic Congressman John Tierney’s critique of the plan at a House committee hearing.
Does a critical mass of negatives, lack of relevance, the disapproval of Defense Secretary Gates, and a Pentagon budget that has to accommodate two wars and an increase in the number of troops mean that the F-22 won’t make the cut in the budget scheduled for release this month?
Four days before Barack Obama took office, forty-four senators (representing both parties) signed a letter to the president-elect, warning him that even a fleet of 183 planes would be insufficient to counter potential threats. Four paragraphs into the letter, the senators made the argument that has dominated the F-22 debate as the economy contracted.
FULL EMPLOYMENT—”The F-22 program annually provides over $12 billion of economic activity to the national economy,” the senators wrote. “Over 25,000 Americans work for the 1,000-plus suppliers in 44 states that manufacture the F-22. Moreover, it is estimated that another 70,000 additional Americans indirectly owe their jobs to this program. As we face one of the most trying economic times in recent history it is critical to preserve existing high paying, specialized jobs that are critical to the nation’s defense.”
The day after Obama took the oath of office, 191 members of the House signed off on a similar letter. In fact, the House’s “$12 billion” paragraph was lifted directly from the letter signed by the senators—minus the redundant “another 70,000 additional.”
Texas Governor Rick Perry followed, with an argument about 95,000 jobs that will be lost if F-22 production is curtailed. Twelve other governors signed a similar letter.
Lockheed Martin, the principal contractor, has shifted the focus of its public-relations campaign from national security to economic stimulus. The national Machinists union has joined the campaign to save the F-22 and the jobs it provides in forty-four states.
How is one weapon manufactured in forty-four states? (And why were six states left out of the deal?) Twenty years ago, Pentagon analyst Chuck Spinney wrote a white paper entitled “Defense Power Games,” in which he described the “political engineering” of defense projects. Political engineering is the process of spreading the design and production of weapons systems across as many states (and Congressional districts) as possible, creating a large Congressional constituency for a weapons system.
Once a constituency is created, it’s cultivated. The four big contractors in the F-22 deal have provided $11.5 million in political contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Lockheed Martin has aimed its retooled jobs and economic development campaign at Congress, with full-page ads in the Washington Post and posters in the D.C. Metro. The debate is no longer about national defense. It’s about jobs. F-22 proponents have become military Keynesians, focusing on the economic stimulus the continued production of the fighter jet would provide an economy mired in a recession.
It wasn’t always that way. Thomas Christie was the director of Operational Test and Evaluation when he retired from the Pentagon. In a phone interview, Christie recalled a defense contractor working on an Air Force project, who entered the office of Ronald Reagan’s Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger with a chart that listed the jobs the program created.
“Weinberger blew his stack,” Christie said. “He said, ‘Get that out of here. I never want to see anything like that again.'”
It was more than a sense of propriety. Weinberger, Christie said, was offended by the notion that a weapons procurement and manufacturing program would be sold as a job creation program.
Pierre Sprey spent twenty years designing Air Force warplanes at the Pentagon, until he resigned in 1986. He’s an ardent critic of the F-22 but doesn’t think its opponents can stop it—even though President Obama has promised to cut out wasteful weapons programs and Defense Secretary Gates is gunning for the plane. Sprey predicts a budget decision that is not quite a decision, “stealing a little money out of the F-35 program to pump up the F-22 because they need it right now.”
“It will be an interesting display of the muscle of the military-industrial complex and the Congress and the zillions of subcontractors,” Sprey said in an interview. “Because it’s well-known that Gates really wants to cancel this son of a bitch. And, the OMB [Office of Management and Budget] wants to cancel it too. So here are two of the top-ranking civilian agencies involved that really want to cancel the son of a bitch. And the power of all this campaign money and everything else is such that they can’t.”
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