• Gulp! $30 Trillion Debt? Cheaper Alternatives to F-35 Need to Be Found

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    Surge Summary: As the U.S. debt approaches $30 trillion, it is time for government defense contractors to be held to closer accountability. Cheaper alternatives to the F-35 fighter jet, for instance, need to be found.

    by Phil Kiver

    There are more inexpensive, yet capable alternatives to the high cost F-35 fighter jet. According to Boeing, “the F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet is the newest highly capable, affordable and available tactical aircraft in U.S. Navy inventory. The Super Hornet is the backbone of the U.S. Navy carrier air wing now and for decades to come.” The modernized versions cost about $70 million per aircraft.

    Compare that price to the F-35B that costs about $136 million and Navy F-35C that costs about $117 million per aircraft. According to Dan Grazier at POGO, “in 2017, the press reported a price drop of 7.3% per aircraft compared to the previous year. In 2019, the press reported another lower price, from Lockheed Martin, of approximately $81 million per plane just as Congress began work on the annual Pentagon budget.” Those numbers were misleading because they included accounting gimmicks that “portrayed a particularly rosy forecast by putting the cost of an F-35 at $57.4 million, while admitting that figure doesn’t include the engine.” Even with accounting trickery, the F-35 is far more expensive than the F/A-18.

    Any metric used shows that the F/A-18 is a versatile and less expensive version of the F-35 using every metric. An overlooked reason why it makes sense to save some money now, is that the F-35 is already behind the Chinese in technology. Peter Suciu of the National Interest believes that “the J-20 ‘Mighty Dragon’ fighter, which was almost certainly based on stolen designs from the United State Air Force’s Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.” Suciu reported that “the appearance and profile of the aircraft is far from the only similarities between the two fifth-generation fighters,” as evidenced by “some of the technology on the Chinese fighter has been described as looking ‘awfully similar’ to systems on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.” This speaks to the idea that the U.S needs to embrace the next generation aircraft.

    The Pentagon needs to embrace the Next Generation Air Dominance program (NGAD) to promote survivability and to stay ahead of the Chinese who may have acquired the technology used to build the F-35. According to reports on a Congressional study of the NGAD, “the Air Force has said that NGAD exists to examine five major technologies that are likely to appear on next generation aircraft, with the goal of enhancements in survivability, lethality, and persistence.” The F-35’s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin Corporation, is scheduled to be give far more than one trillion dollars in taxpayer money, yet they are throwing money at an outdated technology. With spending out of control across the entire federal government, does this make any sense?

    If the official debt is approaching thirty trillion than the long-term commitments is around ninety trillion. This is far worse than anybody thinks today. The American people have grown weary of terms like “debt ceiling” or deficit spending. The majority of taxpayers have no real idea of numbers with eleven or more zeroes mean. Deficit hawks like Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) have been shouted down by the elites of both parties as the spending goes on. Smart decision-making can slow the growth of debt.

    Even a decade ago, people had already become apathetic to the ridiculous cost overrun of the F-35. The contractor was reluctant to discuss the cost overruns and rolled out excuses for each failure. But just like years ago when the national debt was a mere fourteen trillion, no one seemed to notice. The new debt is charging towards a staggering thirty trillion dollars and rising. Now is the time to find ways to spend less money on better programs.

    To get a sense of why some contractors continue to bilk the Pentagon with inflated costs consider the way a private sector company has handled this issue. Lockheed is a Fortune 100 company employs tens of thousands of people, with over one hundred and ten years of aviation experience. The colorful history of Martin and Lockheed both from humble cow pasture beginnings joined forces in a merger in 1995. Now twenty-six years later Lockheed Martin is like a few dozen other larger defense contractors. They get so much money because government simply gives it to them without asking any hard questions.

    In FY 2020, Lockheed had contracts for $123 billon dollars. The F-35 tops the list followed by the F-16 which was the second biggest platform as Lockheed Martin was awarded a contract to set up a US-based facility for the F-16. There is nothing wrong with a contractor making money, but the size of this contract should get a bit more scrutiny by the Pentagon.

    Fourteen years after the F-35’s first flight, it’s time to do with the fighter jet what was done with the F-22 and even the B-1 before that, at a certain point, the American taxpayer must cut the funding, and the Pentagon must move on to other options.

    The views here are those of the author and not necessarily Daily Surge

    Originally Posted here.

    Image: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/; Adapted from: Falcon Photography;  https://www.flickr.com/photos/falcon_33/48561796127

    Phil Kiver, Ph.D., is an Army veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. He received his doctorate in strategic studies at Henley-Putnam University.

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