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Reduce waste to win modern wars

(Photo by Cpl. Francisco J. Diaz Jr./U.S. Marine Corps via Getty Images)

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Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

When the United States goes to war, it must bring every possible weapon to bear against its enemies. Right now, we’re fighting a virus. But just as we would if facing a foreign foe, we need to make certain we’ve focused every possible resource — especially our financial resources — on defeating the enemy. The federal government can’t afford to waste money right now on things that don’t work or we don’t need.

Especially faulty defense platforms, such as the F-35.

Also known as the “Joint Strike Fighter,” the F-35 is the most expensive federal program in U.S. history. Each new jet costs more than $75 billion, the annual costs just to maintain an F-35 fleet are massive, and the hidden costs of annual sustainment contracts are being passed on to the taxpayer every year.

This would be acceptable if the JSF was working to protect our country. However, it is failing at every turn.

For example, most defense platforms are good at force projection: letting the enemy know Americans are on the scene and ready to kill them. “Frequently, I had our air controllers run Marine jets over our larger site,” former Marine General and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis writes in his memoir. That would embolden his troops and frighten his opposition. After all, when an American jet “roars over your head at five hundred miles an hour, you know what’s going to happen to your enemy.”

But the F-35 can’t do that. As a stealth fighter with faulty weapons systems, it can’t “show the flag” over troubled areas. Enemies on the ground don’t fear F-35 flyovers, in part because those flyovers never happen.

There’s also the issue of downtime. Clearly, a weapon system can’t work if it’s in the shop rather than in the field. Downtime hurts readiness. Before he resigned as Defense Secretary, Mattis challenged each of the services to meet the goal of having 80 percent of its air fleet mission-capable. Guess which jets didn’t make the cut?

“The F-16 MC rate in our active-duty units is above 80 percent,” Lt. Gen. Mark Kelly, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for operationstold Military.com last year. Its F-35s, he admitted, would not meet the 80 percent readiness target. Neither did the Navy’s F-35s, although all its other major aircraft exceeded that goal.

In fact, the military often can’t even keep track of whether the F-35 is ready for service. “A $17 billion Lockheed Martin Corp. system used since 2009 to monitor F-35 fighter jets for repairs, parts replacement and general maintenance is rife with flaws, sometimes forcing personnel to spend hours entering data by hand,” Bloomberg reports. Overall, the cost of sustaining the F-35 fleet is expected to exceed $1.2 trillion — money that could be better spent elsewhere on more reliable tools.

Yet instead of cutting back, military officials have been increasing spending on the F-35, even rewarding its contractor Lockheed Martin more money. As recently as 2018, Lockheed “won a $1.4 billion contract to sustain the global F-35 enterprise for the U.S. military and international customers.” That could be called throwing good money after bad.

Unless you follow military appropriations, you probably haven’t heard about the F-35 until recently. Most of us just trust that the federal government is doing all it can to provide for our common defense. However, whether you’ve read about it or not, you’ve been paying a heavy price for the F-35 for many years. 

Experts warn that this year’s federal deficit could approach $4 trillion. Now that the country needs all its resources to fight Covid-19, slashing wasteful funding for the F-35 seems like a good place to begin cutting back.

Bryan Preston

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