F-22 and hard choices

In hard times we all have to weigh priorities, and while I applaud Rep. Rob Bishop and Sen. Orrin Hatch for their entirely predictable defense of the F-22 and their anger at the cutting of funding for another seven of the things, I think a bit of perspective is in order.

Bishop and Hatch had to defend the F-22. They represent a state, and a district, with thousands of Air Force members and workers. Voting against the F-22′s continued funding would be like voting against mom, apple pie AND the girl they left behind, all at once, and I don’t think either of those gentlemen has that sort of intestinal fortitude.

It would take intestinal fortitude because I am taking Hatch and Bishop at their previous words when they have railed, long and loud, at excess government spending, wasteful government spending, pork and all that. It is always someone else’s pork they rail against, of course — it’s easy to criticize when it is Nevada’s boondoggle, not Utah’s.

But, seriously folks, we’re talking $1.7 billion in a military spending bill of more than $660 billion. Are we really to believe that if the military really, really needed those extra planes it couldn’t find the funds somewhere? Is every dollar we spend in the military absolutely critical? Every single base? Every single program?

Of course not. Like any government agency, the military has waste, fraud and abuse. It’s just that, when your constituents all work for the military, you don’t say that out loud.

The F-22 got made into a symbol — the Administration made it a symbol of excess spending, defenders made it a symbol of keeping jobs, keeping the nation safe, and so on. The truth may be in there somewhere, but I doubt it. I refuse to believe that increasing the force of available F-22s by 4 percent or so will make a difference in the  strategic balance, and I refuse to believe that cutting $1.7 billion will make a difference in a milti-trillion dollar budget.

We end up wasting a lot of money playing these games. Keep in mind, at one time not so long ago the Navy defended, and spent huge amounts of money on, reviving and launching the battleship New Jersey, which sailed up and down the Lebanese Coast during the Reagan administration as civil war and terrorism tore that country apart, including the deaths of more than 200 Marines.

Like the F-22, It was a hugely expensive weapon designed for a previous war about which people at the time were  happy to invent dozens of scenarios that it could prove critical in. Unfortunately, none of those things ever happened, because stuff never happens the way you plan for it to. That’s why our army found itself in Iraq with billions of dollars of expensive weapons when what the guys on the ground really needed was armor for their humvees.

The New Jersey was a world shaker. It had the ability to throw tons upon tons of explosives anywhere within 20 miles of the coastline, and it achieved, in that new-style war, absolutely nothing. Terrorists could stand on shore and moon it, and some probably did.

After serving as an admiralty playtoy for a few more years the last battleship was sent back to the mothballs.

I loved NYTimes columnist Gail Collins take on things today. Check it out: (click!)

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5 Responses to F-22 and hard choices

  1. Mark Shenefelt says:

    Hatch on Wednesday was filling his Twitter feed with attacks on Obama for the F-22 cut. Endangering the safety of little American children, yadda yadda yadda.

    Rep. Jim Hansen did the same 15 or 20 years ago when budget cutters were trying to limit the numbers of C-17 cargo planes. I can’t even remember which side “won,” but I note in passing that the world’s still spinning.

  2. laytonian says:

    Defense contractors are very crafty. Did anyone ever wonder why aircraft parts are produced in so many states? It’s because, by spreading out the manufacturing plants, they can get Congress to work on their behalf to “save” their projects.

    **46** states were involved in F-22 production!

    Dwight Eisenhower, despite being a recognized WWII true war hero, was accused of being a communist when he warned against the military-industrial complex.

    We need to be vigilant today.

    The F-22 is a lousy plane that requires 30 hours of maintenance for every hour in the air and we already have *enough* of them (187) that have cost $60 billion to procure and maintain.

    Salon has a great article, too:
    http://www.slate.com/id/2223287/

  3. flatlander100 says:

    Laytonian:

    Not being an aeronautics or defense expert, the fact that the Pentagon doesn’t want the extra F-22s , the Secretary of Defense doesn’t want them, and the JCS don’t want them and that all of them agree the extra planes are not essential for the future defense needs of the nation is good enough for me.

    But I am curious about one thing: many opposed to the additional planes note, as you did, the fact the the F-22 requires 30 hours of maintenance for each hour of flight time. What I am curious about is how that stacks up with respect to other combat aircraft currently in use by the US? What are the flight time/ maintenance time ratios, for example, for other F-series aircraft still in use? If those ratios are 1/30 or close, doesn’t seem the flight/maintenance ratio is a good argument against the F-22. But if those ratios are substantially better, the argument that the F-22 is unreasonably expensive to keep in the air would be a good point.

    Anyone know?

    The F-22 is a lousy plane that requires 30 hours of maintenance for every hour in the air

  4. ctrentelman says:

    I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that the mainenance time vs. flight time thing being pushed around is highly subjective, depending on what you call maintenance — is it being “maintained” when the mechanic spends an hour a day going over stuff that justhas to be checked (kicking tires, changing oil, greasing hinges) or does it involve rebuilding the engine every three weeks?

    The metric sounds, to me, like someone who doesn’t like the plane came up with to bolster their arguement — 30 hours per hour of flight sounds pretty bad, but without definitions and comparisons of other planes using the same metrics, it’s impossible to judge.

    To me the better metric is that the plane is so darn expensive that you can ill afford to have one shot down by a $10,000 sidewinder missile or a $2 bullet, not to mention being so expensive that you can’t afford to buy enough to be effective.

    Some say security knows no price, but the cost/benefit ration gets pretty ugly the higher the numbers go — we could buy 10 or so brand new F-16, with modern updated avionics, for the price of one of these things, and the F-16 is both more versitile and, let’s be blunt, expendible.
    .

  5. laytonian says:

    A recent Washington Post article states: “The Air Force says the F-22 cost $44,259 per flying hour in 2008; the Office of the Secretary of Defense said the figure was $49,808. The F-15, the F-22′s predecessor, has a fleet average cost of $30,818. ”
    http://mobile.washingtonpost.com/detail.jsp?key=409764&rc=to&p=1&all=1

    To me, the newer aircraft shouldn’t cost 1.5 times “per flight hour” to maintain than the aging fighting it’s eventually replacing. Yes, those maintenance costs include some start-up…but they also cover problems inherent in the design. Plus, an older aircraft will have maintenance and increasing modificiations — so the “per flight hour” is a good balanced comparison.

    It wouldn’t be so bad, if the 187 we’ve already paid for, were battle-ready for the wars we are fighting. But they’re not.

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