Why It is Time to Clean the Pentagon’s Augean Stables

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Air Force photo / Tech. Sgt. Michael Holzworth

A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor over the Pacific

The military-industrial-congressional complex (MICC, to its friends and foes), is a political economy that places the interest of the domestic factions benefitting from huge defense budgets ahead of the interests of soldiers, airmen, or sailors who do the fighting and those of the taxpayers who pay the bills.

Put bluntly, the MICC’s factional politics place its interests ahead the national interest by enforcing political decisions that spend other people’s money and spill other people’s blood.  The ongoing scandal of the Air Force’s F-22 fighter jet and the tale of pilots who are sacrificing their careers by refusing to fly it, because they are afraid its defective oxygen system will kill them, is a horrific case proving the general point.

The F-22 has become a poster child for the MICCs pathological behavior.  It is the newest fighter in the Air Force arsenal.  During the height of the Cold War in the 1980s, the service planned to buy 750 F-22s, but that production run was truncated drastically to 187 as its costs skyrocketed and the Cold War ended.

The final F-22 rolled off the production line in December 2011.  The F-22 is, by far, the most expensive fighter program in the history of the world, with a program-unit cost of $490 million, if you allocate proportional shares of its horrendous R&D bill to each of the fighters produced.

Yet, notwithstanding the end of production, that price will continue its upward march in the coming years. From the MICC’s perspective, the F-22 is the gift that will keep on giving: well before production ended, the Air Force had already had already budgeted an additional $6 billion to be spent between 2003 and 2013 on capability improvements (to include weapons integration, software updates, and modifications to flight manuals).

Coincident with the end of production, the Air Force announced on December 8 that it had overrun that $6 billion ceiling by $1.4 billion, so the Air Force opted to add the extra money to the improvement program to avoid a stop work order.  And, dear reader, you can rest assured, more billions will be spent in the coming years.

Now there is one thing military history has proven repeatedly: a war-winning military is based on  three basic elements. In order of importance, they are:

People, because wars are fought by people, not by weapons.

Strategy and tactics, because wars fought without innovative ideas become pointless bloodbaths.

Hardware, because weapons that don’t work or can’t be bought in adequate quantity will bring down even the best people and the best ideas.

But the Air Foirce, like the other military services, thinks otherwise. By its own actions in the F-22 scandal, it clearly places a higher priority on shoveling money to contractors in the MICC than it places on the pilots who may have to go to war in this turkey.

That warped value system is the true cost of the F-22.