Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Say No to the F-22

By Justin McMahan
April 1, 2009

WASHINGTON – In the coming days, President Obama must decide whether to approve the request of Air Force chief of staff General Norton Schwartz for more F-22 Raptors. The request is in addition to the 183 F-22s – each costing some $138 million, or $361 million, if you include overall program costs – that Congress approved in 2006.

Lockheed Martin, which builds the F-22, as well as Boeing and Pratt & Whitney, frequently take out full page ads in The Hill and other publications read by lawmakers and their staff imploring Congress to continue to fund the program, For National Security. For Economic Stability. For the over 300 million Americans it keeps safe – and the more than 95,000 Americans who are employed directly and indirectly.

Not all members of the Defense establishment agree, however, that additional F-22s are needed to keep American safe. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, for one, has expressed concern that procuring more F-22s would come at the expense of the more affordable F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

From an economic standpoint, Gates’ position is important because the production of the F-35, which may be sold overseas, has the potential to generate sorely needed revenue. The F-22, meanwhile, has been banned for sale to foreign governments by House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-WI).

Considerable debate exists within the Defense establishment concerning the utility of investing tens of billions of dollars in next generation aircraft at a time when more robust counterinsurgency capabilities are needed to tamp down growing unrest in Afghanistan, Iraq and, possibly, Pakistan. Secretary Gates is adamant that the killing of Afghan and Pakistani civilians by errant bombs and missile attacks hinders our ability to win hearts and minds there.

Indeed, a central lesson from the early years of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is that counterinsurgency is less about killing insurgents and more about devising political solutions to local problems while being shot at. Solving problems at the community level and building long-term, genuine partnerships with the local population is the best way to diminish insurgents’ influence. F-22s Raptors do not help to build these partnerships.

If President-elect Obama is serious about placing a renewed emphasis on nation building, as his statements concerning Afghanistan and Pakistan attest, he needs to work with Congress to ensure that already strained Defense budgets are not saddled with unnecessary appropriations for next generation fighter jets that do not help our effort there.

The F-22 Raptor program alone has cost American taxpayers $62 billion, almost twice the entire 2008 State Department budget of $35 billion, which is less than 8% of the $481 billion Defense Department budget (less than 6% if we include $162 billion in supplemental war funding). If we are serious about defeating insurgencies in South Asia, we need to shift resources away from nice-to-have next generation defense programs and instead fund the additional nation building responsibilities that we assumed when President Obama dispatched more than 17,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

While it is understandable that some members of Congress, whose constituents include employees of Lockheed and other companies that build the F-22, advocate additional funding for the program, sound fiscal judgment and the need to win the wars in South Asia and Iraq make a strong case – if not for additional State Department funding - at least for postponing procurement of additional F-22s.

To preserve jobs, funds earmarked for the F-22 could still be allocated to Lockheed, but only to produce systems that will make us safer, like Lockheed’s Maritime Integrated Domain Awareness System (MIDAS). By allocating more money to MIDAS, President Obama would take an important step toward securing our nation’s ports and lessening the chance that terrorists will detonate a nuclear weapon in the port of Oakland, Long Beach or New Jersey.

President Obama talks tough about the importance of writing reality-based budgets and making sure that we have the money to cover expenditures. If that is not the case, he says, we need to make some hard budget choices. This is one of the easy ones. President Obama should say “No” to procuring additional F-22s.

Justin McMahan, a former Director at the EastWest Institute, is enrolled in Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and MBA joint degree program.


  1. Dude. This guy is totally blogging.

    And he's not even in the region yet.


  2. Gates outlines military spending overhaul
    $140 million-per-plane F-22 stealth fighter is on the chopping block
    The Associated Press
    updated 3:08 p.m. ET, Mon., April. 6, 2009
    WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Monday recommended halting production of the F-22 fighter jet and scrapping a new helicopter for the president as he outlined deep cuts to many of the U.S. military's biggest weapons programs.

    Gates said his $534 billion budget proposal represents a "fundamental overhaul" in defense acquisition and reflects a shift in priorities from fighting conventional wars to the newer threats U.S. forces face from insurgents in places such as Afghanistan.

    The department must ensure it has the right programs and money to "fight the wars we are in today and the scenarios we are most likely to face in the years to come, while at the same time providing a hedge against other risks," Gates said as he revealed details of his budget for the next fiscal year.

    The promised emphasis on budget paring is a reversal from the Bush years, which included a doubling of the Pentagon's spending since 2001. Spending on tanks, fighter planes, ships, missiles and other weapons accounted for about a third of all defense spending last year. But Gates noted more money will be needed in areas such as personnel as the Army and Marines expand the size of their forces.

    Lawmaker opposition
    Gates will likely face stiff resistance in Congress, where lawmakers are wary of losing defense contractor jobs with an economy in crisis. Some defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin Corp. have warned of huge layoffs if programs are cut.

    Production of the F-22 fighter jet, which cost $140 million apiece, would be halted at 187. Plans to build a new helicopter for the president and a helicopter to rescue downed pilots would be canceled. A new communications satellite would be scrapped and the program for a new Air Force transport plane would be ended.

    Some of the Pentagon's most expensive programs would also be scaled back. The Army's $160 billion Future Combat Systems modernization program would lose its armored vehicles. Plans to build a shield to defend against missile attacks by rogue states would also be scaled back.

    Yet some programs would grow. Gates proposed speeding up production of the F-35 fighter jet, which could end up costing $1 trillion to manufacture and maintain 2,443 planes. The military would buy more speedy ships that can operate close in to land. And more money would be spent outfitting special forces troops that can hunt down insurgents.

    "It is important to remember that every defense dollar spent to over-ensure against a remote or diminishing risk — or in effect to run up the score in a capability where the United States is already dominant — is a dollar not available to take care of our people, reset the force, win the wars we are in and improve capabilities in areas where we are underinvested and potentially vulnerable," Gates said.

    The Government Accountability Office reported last week that 96 of the Pentagon's biggest weapons contracts were over budget by a "staggering" figure of $296 billion.

    A bill in Congress would require the Pentagon to do a better job of making sure proposed weapons are affordable and perform the way they should before the military spends big sums on them. The Defense Department has already adjusted its acquisitions policy to achieve some of those goals.

    Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
    URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30071664/