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Avatar of GI KoreaBy on May 13th, 2012 at 5:07 pm

F-35 Will Cost More Than Proposed Military Retirement Changes

» by in: US Military

Here is another example of a massive Pentagon acquisition program that has gone well over budget and has not lived up to expectations:

Every time the Pentagon budget is vulnerable to cuts, we hear about the huge risks that would ensue. Defense jobs would get cut, depressing the economy. American military technology would fall behind. Terrorists would get a free hand. China would sneak up on us.

So with $55 billion due to be cut from the Pentagon’s budget next year, defenders of the military-industrial complex are once again warning of doom descending on America.

But it’s the Pentagon’s own wasteful spending that’s a much bigger threat. Pentagon procurement has become so convoluted and dominated by lobbyists that billion-dollar weapon systems are commissioned a decade or two before they’re actually fielded. Costs always rise, whether the weapon is relevant or not. Weapons are rarely junked, even when threats change–as they clearly did after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Instead, favored programs are merely reconfigured and assigned new capabilities, raising costs even more.

The F-35 Lightning II fighter jet, the Pentagon’s biggest procurement program ever, is the poster child for the kind of wanton spending the nation can no longer afford. The F-35, built by Lockheed Martin, got its start in the early 1990s, with the concept for a stealthy jet that the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps could all use, theoretically making it cheaper than a trio of different jets unique to each service.

It hasn’t worked out that way. The first official plan, in 2001, called for 2,866 jets costing a total of $233 billion, according to the Government Accountability Office. The latest plan cuts production to 2,457 jets, yet the cost has risen to $397 billion. The cost per aircraft has doubled, from $81 million to $162 million, and that’s without accounting for 10 years of inflation.

Budget analyst Winslow Wheeler–who calls the F-35 “the jet that ate the Pentagon”–argues that the total life-cycle cost of the program, including funds to operate and support the jet, could total a stunning $1.5 trillion or higher, which is more than the annual GDP of Spain.  [US News & World Report]

You can read the rest at the link but to be fair the Pentagon is not solely to blame for out of control acquisitions programs because the politicians in Congress are just as much to blame for keeping defense spending programs alive that the Pentagon does not want.

Also the title of the article, “The F-35 Shows Why the Pentagon Deserves a Smaller Budget” I think is misleading because all giving a smaller budget to the Pentagon means is that the politicians will ensure wasteful spending like the F-35 remains alive while the cuts come on the back of US military servicemembers like what they are trying to do with ending military retirement and raising health care fees on retirees. So while the politicians and their political allies try to end the current military retirement system in order to save $150 to $350 billion dollars over 20 years, the F-35 is now at $397 billion over the next 20 years and growing with no end in sight.

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  • Sleeper Six
    4:08 pm on May 13th, 2012 1

    I think we need to put more human capability development into our military rather than purchase and implement every “instrument” that represents the most current technological benchmark. And I think we need to lessen our dependence on contractors to provide for our installation security and dining facilities.

    These days, I rarely come across a seasoned NCO or Warrant Officer that puts their heart into everything they do, and produce some outstanding products (Soldier or otherwise) and results. I could even say the same about the officer side. It really concerns me what the future of our force is turning into.

  • Lemmy
    6:35 pm on May 13th, 2012 2

    P.T. Barnum was right.

  • patriot
    2:31 pm on May 14th, 2012 3

    While I can understand concerns over our service members, how they are treated, and how our forces operate, I do believe this is just a coming to light of things have always been.

    It is nothing new for our military to be used for commercial ends, or for military expenses to be commercial gains – these things have just become far more obvious to so many more people. Our military is a tool, as is our government, for commercial enterprise far more than it is for the people or to protect freedoms.

    You see it and read about it daily. “Support our troops” at home, in parades, on TV – just do not actually support them – remove them of their retirements, strip them of their healthcare, turn a blind eye as they return.. s**t, do not even properly equip them for battle.

    More and more it is obvious we are simply tools. Pawns awaiting the next order sending us to our deaths.

    Enough is enough.

  • someotherguy
    7:39 pm on May 14th, 2012 4

    Problem with defense spending is that it’s always a “use it or lose it” affair. Directors and PM’s are not rewarded for going under budget, if anything their penalized by having a permanently reduced budget for the next year and so forth. These weapons programs keep going up in costs due to “feature bloat”. The platform is designed one way, then a few years later someone whats to add something “new”, then a few years after that another “new” item gets tacked on. Each new item raise’s the R&D costs even further and the contracting companies are only too happy for increased revenue. The JSF-35 is the perfect example of this, its original long development time left too much room for feature bloat as each and every new technology was demanded to be put into it.

    It’s a double edged issue, on one hand you can cut the feature blot but due to long development cycles your purchasing hardware designed with five+ year old technology, or you can try to build something with “cutting edge” technology and pay out the nose for it each and every year. Also budget proposals for future weapons platforms are ALWAYS stupidly low. The idea is to bid under cost and later raise the cost, if you don’t do that then your competitor will. The DoD’s contracting bid system places a heavy emphasis on getting the vender with the lowest cost, thus any proposal is by-default under cost and expected to raise.

  • Liz
    6:06 am on May 15th, 2012 5

    #4: I don’t think the problem is “stupidly low” budget proposals for future weapons platforms. They budget for the contract awarded. The contract itself is always “stupidly low”. Take the JSF, the pricetag for which has quintupled and then some since it was initially awarded.

    And, as you mentioned, large acquisition takes place over many years. While contracts have rewards and penalties as part of the agreement, in many cases the deal can become “take it or leave it”. A contractor will tell the government what a certain widget will cost for the capabilities the government wants. Several years into the development the contractor may decide that they can’t make the widget do everything it was supposed to, and asks for requirement relief (or more money). Since no more money is available the only real choice may be to grant relief. Next, congress may reduce funding in a year. Now the contractor can’t pay to keep all its employees working on the project and moves them elsewhere. This means a slip to the entire schedule and more cost.

    Eventually, the program drags on and the brochure becomes less and less glossy. The service may press the contractor, but it has already made a huge investment. There is not an option to simply change contractors. The service is keenly aware that canceling the program will not bode well for the next time it wants money for another major program. Occasionally the service may say enough is enough and move to cancel the contract, and then Congress stepped in and effectively said “you can’t cancel this program” (the C-130J comes to mind). That doesn’t even cover the gianormity of the ever-present cancellation fees (as the navy incurred with the VH-71 presidential helicopter).

    The military could help itself out by playing the game a modicum better, though. Lockheed plays this very very well. A company will take the same group of individuals and generally keep them working on a project so they know the ins and outs….the military will take a person who knows absolutely nothing about a project, place him in a position for about two years (one if he’s a fast mover) and then move him along the promotion trail. Furthermore, it’s never good to admit errors (measures that might have led to more efficiency), or that will hinder the promotion process as well….so it’s impossible to learn from mistakes that no one two years later is even aware of the existence of. Instead, they reinvent the wheel continuously.

    Remember just three short years ago Gates made a speech explaining that the JSF would fill the fighter gap, used to justify eliminating the F22 program early. Everyone who didn’t understand how this goes thought it was a grand idea…hey, the JSF is only 35-er40-er50 million a copy! Now it’s over 100 million a copy and has only one engine. They made this decision before the JSF had even been through the basic testing phase.

    Gates’ speech in 2009: “To sustain U.S. air superiority, I am committed to building a fifth generation tactical fighter capability that can be produced in quantity at sustainable cost. Therefore, I will recommend increasing the buy of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter from the 14 aircraft bought in FY09 to 30 in FY10, with corresponding funding increases from $6.8 billion to $11.2 billion. We would plan to buy 513 F-35s over the five-year defense plan, and, ultimately, plan to buy 2,443. For naval aviation, we will buy 31 FA-18s in FY10.”

    The above put the oopid in stupid.

  • Liz
    6:21 am on May 15th, 2012 6

    Other thoughts:
    We could buy our jets overseas, and that would add competition which might potentially lower cost (though the Eurofighter, for instance, is extremely expensive and not as good as the F22) but we have very few remaining companies that produce fighter aircraft. The higher-tech the plane, the greater the problem with keeping the manufacturers in business so we can maintain the planes as well as the parts they produce (no replacement parts=no planes in short order). If we were to buy fighter aircraft overseas it’s likely we wouldn’t be able to produce any here at all, since there wouldn’t be enough profit to keep Lockheed in business. And starting a facility like that from the bottom would take an extraordinary amount of money, not to mention years. I’d worry about that, as air superiority offers a vast advantage actually depending on foreign country’s fighter aircraft isn’t a position I’d like to see us in.

    In 1991 there were 36 operational fighter squadrons around the globe. Now there are about eight (google likely won’t reflect this because we’re speaking of operational squadrons only, and they don’t break it down that way….there are other training and testing squadrons, but they aren’t operational or ready to be deployable to war).

  • JoeC
    7:11 am on May 15th, 2012 7

    The recent UN sanctioned involvement in Libya exposed something. While the US only committed combat aircraft to No-Fly Zone patrols (until just before endgame) the NATO Allies were in there to provide air support to rebel ground forces from the start.

    They (the NATO Allies) kept asking for us (the USA) to contribute A-10s and/or AC-130s, why? Maybe because without air combat controllers on the ground in most cases when needed, it was pretty hard to make out rebel fighters from Libyan loyalists before deciding who to hit. That’s hard to do from the fast moving aircraft NATO had. They needed a slower mover able to loiter and circle to make out what’s going on, on the ground before attacking. Not sure if the F-22 or F-35 could do that well either.

  • Liz
    7:31 am on May 15th, 2012 8

    Not only could they (likely) not do that well, but they are both too expensive to risk even trying.

  • Pops
    9:51 pm on May 16th, 2012 9

    At #6, Do you mean 36 fighter squadrons or wings around the globe in 1991? Are you counting active duty AF fighter units only?

  • JoeC
    12:45 am on May 17th, 2012 10

    Here is where China stands in the future air superiority race.

  • Liz
    3:34 am on May 17th, 2012 11

    Heh, pops I was thinking of F16s. They lost the equivalent of an entire squadron of F16s every year then, but there were so many it hardly mattered. And yes that was active duty. Reserve units for fighter wings are beginning to share airplanes with active so in many cases all they bring is new pilots, not planes. For instance, if you look at the stats for Holloman AFB it looks like they have three squadrons….officially they still do, but none of them are actually technically operational because all three (only actually one, the eighth essentially doesn’ have any it was shut down before it opened and the seventh was sharing planes with the Reserve) are in the process of lossing all their planes to Langley and Eglin (which is testing, not operational).

    So there are about two squadrons of A10s left in existence (some wings resoddered on the things are so old), two F15 squadrons in the world (they have been grounded many times for falling out of the sky due to mechanical failure), less eight F16 squadrons (very old aircraft), and four F22 squadrons (two in Alaska, two at Langley the rest are testing only). There is an F22 Guard unit which barely has any. Reserve and Guard units are so hard up on money they are more like flying clubs…even active duty has very little money to train so the required hours are so minimal many are border-line dangerous.

  • Liz
    4:08 am on May 17th, 2012 12

    To put this into perspective, if the projected budget cuts go through over the next 3-5 years we will have the smallest Airforce in the history of the Airforce. A lot of this they did to themselves, true. They fired 40,000 people to pay for the F22 and then found they couldn’t do without them so hired thousands back who then had to be trained, and then after the F22 was stopped at 187 (after the vast majority of money had been spent, the last units only around 93 million a copy far lower than the first) they then sunk everything into the JSF…but that doesn’t change the look of things. Considering that the budget has historically been divided almost evenly for all the services I’m guessing things don’t look any better for any other branch either.

  • Glans
    4:14 am on May 17th, 2012 13

    Welcome to the Drone Age.

  • Lemmy
    8:58 am on May 17th, 2012 14

    What is the threat to our nation from foreign air power? Ok how about a future threat?

  • Pops
    11:21 am on May 17th, 2012 15

    #14, Depends on how you define nation, related national interests, etc. Note also that “aerial” threats are from more than just aircraft, e.g. air and sea-launched cruise missiles.

  • Liz
    4:04 pm on May 17th, 2012 16

    Insurance is always a waste of money until you need it.

  • Lemmy
    6:21 pm on May 17th, 2012 17

    I paid insurance premiums all of my adult life and never once needed to file a claim. That is because I am not negligent in my actions.

  • someotherguy
    10:17 pm on May 17th, 2012 18

    Hmm depends how you look at things. From a nations perspective you want the dominate position to prevent others from even thinking about starting something. This is something most people fail to comprehend, that military supremacy isn’t about killing people, bombing places or otherwise engaging the enemy, if you need to do these things then your plan isn’t working. Supremacy is about having such an overwhelming edge over everyone else, that no one will even attempt to confront you or challenge that supremacy. You end up saving more money, lives and resources by carrying around an automatic grenade launcher then you would be constantly firing a rifle. The rifle may get the job done, but the grenade launcher prevents you from even having to do the job in the first place. On top of this power abhors a vacuum, there are people who can not understand this and never will. If the USA is the world wide military super power then someone else will be, there is no land of rainbows and pink unicorns where we all sit together and sing songs.

    If instead of the USA you had China or Russia as the worldwide superpowers then this planet would be a much darker place. All of east and south-east Asia would be part of a communist society similar to what China / NK was in the 70′s and 80s. Much of Europe and Africa would be part of the USSR or some version of it. South America would of formed a communistic block aligned with Russia and China, and the citizens of the USA would be under constant threat from invasion that include nuclear, chemical and the most nightmarish of them all, biological weapons. The USA, being a democratically elected country with a constantly changing leadership, can not use NBC weapons without a massive political backlash against whomever authorizes it (Congress / Presidency). Those non-elected communistic governments have absolutely zero issues with using NBC weapons, there is no internal threat to their regime.

    Everyone in the world likes to hate on the USA because their individual governments encourage it, it allows those governments to safe tons of money by not having a military capable of defending their nation yet still able to project the sense of national security to their populations. It’s kinda sad that people are that ignorant.

  • JoeC
    12:06 am on May 18th, 2012 19

    The USA, the benevolent superpower. The global policeman and guardian of world peace. The result — we end up spending more on defense than the next 15 countries combined.

    Filling vacuums is hard and expensive work. Maybe we shouldn’t assume all of that is our burden alone.

  • someotherguy
    1:25 am on May 18th, 2012 20


    I agree with that, there NEEDS to be a bigger focus on other NATO countries stepping up.

    I hardly call our national policy “benevolent”, after all it’s in our best interests to prevent an aggressive super power from forming with desires to attempt world domination. Our best interests just happen to align with keeping relative peace across the world.

    In all honestly though, military spending is one of the few economically reasonable things to spend money on. The money is nearly always re-injected back into the national economy, soldiers are consumers, their family’s are consumers. GS workers are consumers as are the contractors. Tanks / Airplanes / Bombs / Bullets get built in factories that employ Americans (required by federal law). The R&D that’s done by those companies for those weapons systems tends to be used for American products and non-military research / medical research.

    So if your going to throw money away, throwing it at the Military will give you a better return then throwing it at a foreign nation or in some ill conceived social program. Just remember when someone says “cut military spending” it inevitably leads to force reduction, which is the political term for firing / laying off Service Members. Canceling weapons programs means firing / laying off workers, shutting down American factories and cutting wages to American citizens. Thus spending money on a military program isn’t wasteful, provided it’s wisely spent, which few of the current weapons programs are.

    I’m for a better stewardship of the money being spent on the Military. I believe as a nation we can get more for our money if there was less politicians involved in the military budget.

  • Liz
    2:49 am on May 18th, 2012 21

    #17: Strange way to define negligent. Is dying negligent? Getting sick? My grandfather didn’t have life insurance and explained to my father the reason was because all of the insurance salespeople drove cadillacs. About three weeks after explaining this to my father, he was hit by a car and died, leaving the family destitute. As a result, my father always carried good coverage…well, he is ninety now and it was all a waste of money in hindsight. Yet it wasn’t.

    Fortress America isn’t a very fun game to play. I like axis and allies better. And in axis and allies air superiority does still seem to come in handy….even though there are few real compelling threats to the US homeland in that game. We have commitments around the globe, we could abandon them though. It’s cost to gains and I prefer to be in a position where we aren’t begging people to help us out.

  • Glans
    6:20 am on November 22nd, 2012 22

    The F-35 Lightning II is now operational at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. Senator John Sidney McCain III is pleased. Andrea Shalal-Esa reports for Reuters.

  • JoeC
    3:13 pm on November 22nd, 2012 23


    I hope the Marines haven’t pushed it into operational status just to get ahead of the budget cuts. It think they did that with the V-22 Osprey and it cost lives.


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