Trump Questions Military Spending: An Encouraging Sign
December 13, 2016
Thomas Knapp /AntiWar.com & Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
Donald Trump has been all over the map on military issues throughout his campaign and post-campaign pronouncements. Still, Trump's December 12 tweet on Lockheed's F-35 contract is encouraging to those who'd like to see real "defense" spending cuts. Styling himself as a shrewd negotiator who can get the best deals, Trump hasn't been shy in criticizing the massive cost overruns in some of the Pentagon's juiciest contracts, setting the stage for potential acrimony with the influential military industry.
Trump on Military Spending: An Encouraging Sign
Thomas Knapp /AntiWar.com
(December 12, 2016) -- As on most issues, president-elect Donald Trump has been all over the map on military issues throughout his campaign and post-campaign pronouncements. One day he muses about disbanding NATO, the next day he promises to "rebuild" the US military, which is already by far not just the most well-funded war machine, but the most well-funded enterprise of any kind on Planet Earth (the 2017 US military budget exceeds Wal-Mart's 2015 gross revenues by about $100 billion). He's hard to pin down.
Still, Trump's December 12 tweet on Lockheed's F-35 contract is encouraging to those who'd like to see real US "defense" spending cuts. "The F-35 program and cost is out of control," he wrote. "Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th."
If the F-35 -- called the Joint Strike Fighter because it's supposed to be used by all US armed forces and several allies, replacing various other aircraft -- ever actually rolls out ready for combat, its life cycle cost will come to more than a trillion dollars and the prices of various models will run in the range of $100 million per aircraft.
For the sake of comparison, that's more than three times the price of the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet, the current US Navy and Marine Corps fighter/attack workhorse.
The F-35 is indeed one of the more insane wastes of taxpayer money in recent history. If Trump could find a way to kill the whole project, both taxpayers and the armed forces would be better off for its demise.
But even if Trump is serious, he's in for a fight with 75 years of history. Since World War II, the primary function of the US government has been to transfer wealth from the pockets of American workers to the bank accounts of "defense" contractors like Lockheed Martin.
Even as long ago as 1960, when president Dwight Eisenhower warned America about the dangers of the "military-industrial complex" in his farewell speech, his warning was too little, too late. American politicians already were, and still are, addicted to military spending (and to the campaign contributions it calls forth and the make-work jobs it brings to their states and districts).
Breaking that bad habit is a daunting job. Like they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, the first step is admitting you have a problem. The only problem American politicians seem to see with spending half a trillion dollars a year on the pretense of "defending" the US is that they don't get to spend more.
Instead of singling out particular boondoggles like the F-35, Trump might have more success imposing fiscal discipline across the board. That is, demand spending cuts to the US Department of Defense's top budget line and let DoD figure out the details of how to make do with less.
A 75% cut, phased in over ten years, sounds about right. The US government would still be the single biggest military spender on the planet, but only by about 2 1/2 times, instead of 10 times, as much as its closest competitor (China).
Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism. He lives and works in north central Florida. This article is reprinted with permission from William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.
Trump Takes on the Defense Industry
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(December 12, 2016) -- Styling himself as a shrewd negotiator who can get the best deals, President-elect Donald Trump hasn't been shy in criticizing the massive cost overruns in some of the Pentagon's juiciest contracts, setting the stage for potential acrimony with the influential military industry.
Trump raised eyebrows in criticizing the ever-growing cost of a new Air Force One from Boeing, but that $4 billion estimated contract is small potatoes compared to Lockheed Martin's massive F-35 program, which is the most expensive program in Pentagon history, already swelling to $400 billion.
In fact, the $400 billion is a very conservative estimate at this point, representing development and preliminary purchases, with official estimates that the upkeep of the planes over the lifetime of the program will put it into the $1.4 trillion range.
The costs of the F-35 have been out of control for years, a fact that has been well publicized, but the fact that Trump even mentioned it was enough to cost Lockheed Martin's stock $4 billion. None of the previous Pentagon reports, GAO reports, or Congressional hearings on the overruns had anywhere near this impact.
Trump's position may not matter, however, as the costs of the program are ultimately up to Congressional appropriations, and like most big money programs the contract has been spread out over enough Congressional districts that funding is virtually assured.
Trump may well use his position as president as a bully pulpit to try to pressure Congress about putting some restrictions on the cost overruns, but that doesn't mean it will necessarily happen, and companies like Lockheed will use their significant lobbying powers to try to protect such deals as best they can.
That he's publicly talking about these things, and is getting media coverage in doing so, may be the real story here, as from the perspective of contractors it risks making their already well-established squandering of hundreds of billions of dollars more common knowledge.
That could well set the stage for some very public fighting between the new White House and the military contractors, many of whom are already griping over Trump's proposed ban on Pentagon buyers taking jobs with arms sellers, which has historically been an easy way for the big contractors to keep close ties with the Pentagon leadership, and a cushy exit strategy for top Pentagon officers.
It's unclear if this tough position with contractors is also going to mean a struggle with the Pentagon itself, but while Trump has promised the military more money and appointed multiple former generals to his cabinet, weapons programs in which hundreds of billions disappear into the aether annually are such an established part of the status quo at this point, it seems almost certain he will be ruffling some feathers.
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