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An F-35 flies over Destin, Florida.
An F-35 flies over Destin, Florida.
As the complaints roll in over the jury-rigged mess called the budget sequester, one quarter you aren't hearing any bellyaching from is the guys building the F-35 Lightning II, the fifth-generation air-to-air and air-to-ground combat aircraft. It's supposed to be several magnitudes better than the aircraft it will replace. Supposed to be stealthy, maneuverable, evasive. It can be used in three configurations by all the military services and it can be sold to U.S. allies everywhere.

The superlatives are never-ending for this plane built to win battles in case the Cold War ever switched to hot. Never mind that the Cold War was over before the vast majority of last year's college graduates were born and half a decade before the first development contract for the F-35 was signed.

And never mind that those superlatives include the latest tabulation by Theodoric Meyer at the website ProPublica. Some of the findings:

• In 2013 dollars, the F-35 was originally estimated at $106 million for each of 2,852 planes, at a total pricetag of $303 billion. Now, the Pentagon plans to buy 2,443 for $162.5 million apiece, a total of $397 billion, a 52 percent cost overrun for 15 percent fewer aircraft.

• So far, $85 billion has been spent to build 65 planes even though they aren't yet fully tested. Once testing is over "there will be no yes-or-no, up-or-down decision point," Pierre Sprey, one of the chief architects of the Air Force's older F-16 Fighting Falcon, told the Washington Post. "That's totally deliberate. It was all in the name of ensuring it couldn't be canceled."

• $1.5 trillion to cover the cost of building, flying and maintaining the F-35 fleet throughout the 55-year lifespan of the plane.

133,000 jobs in 45 states that contractor Lockheed-Martin says the project currently supports.

$15.35 million spent in 2012 on lobbying by Lockheed-Martin.

Charles Pierce at Esquire has properly labeled the F-35 the Flying Swiss Army Knife, aka The Lemon Of The Skies. But he's just an opinion writer. What does he know? Please continue reading below the fold to see what a boondoggle the F-35 is.

How about Winslow Wheeler? He worked for 40 years as a national security staff member for both Republican and Democratic senators, the Government Accountability Office, the Republican staff of the Senate Budget Committee and wrote a book in 2004, The Wastrels of Defense: How Congress Sabotages U.S. Security, published by those fringey far-leftwingers at the U.S. Naval Institute Press. His view:

The F-35 isn't only expensive—it's way behind schedule. The first plan was to have an initial batch of F-35s available for combat in 2010. Then first deployment was to be 2012. More recently, the military services have said the deployment date is "to be determined." A new target date of 2019 has been informally suggested in testimony—almost 10 years late.

If the F-35's performance were spectacular, it might be worth the cost and wait. But it is not. Even if the aircraft lived up to its original specifications—and it will not—it would be a huge disappointment. The reason it is such a mediocrity also explains why it is unaffordable and, for years to come, unobtainable. [...]

A virtual flying piano, the F-35 lacks the F-16's agility in the air-to-air mode and the F-15E's range and payload in the bombing mode, and it can't even begin to compare to the A-10 at low-altitude close air support for troops engaged in combat. Worse yet, it won't be able to get into the air as often to perform any mission—or just as importantly, to train pilots—because its complexity prolongs maintenance and limits availability. The aircraft most like the F-35, the F-22, was able to get into the air on average for only 15 hours per month in 2010 when it was fully operational.

Throughout all the moaning over the effects on the Pentagon of the sequester, and of budget cuts in general, far too little has been said about the bottom line. The United States still spends on its military more than the world's next 16 biggest defense-spending nations combined (not counting the cost of taking care of veterans harmed in war or the interest costs of borrowing to pay for them). Pentagon spending in 2022, when the very modest reductions in spending growth now proposed end, will still be well above the Cold War average.

Being prepared to defend ourselves is something every American wants. But the Pentagon budget goes way beyond what is needed for that. We ought to be cutting tens of billions of dollars out of the Pentagon budget every year for the next several years to reduce that budget, investing the savings in upgraded and innovative infrastructure that would produce hundreds of thousands of jobs. Junking the F-35 would be a good place to start.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Thu Mar 14, 2013 at 03:03 PM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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