Government Spending

F-22: A Saga of the Military-Industrial Complex's Blood and Guts

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Pretty nifty Washington Post piece on the hows and whys of paying gajillions over an eternity (sorry for all the technical terms, this is complicated stuff) for planes that barely work for missions we rarely need. Taxpayers, meet the F-22: Consider it your plane!

A supersonic sortie through the high-flying details of the barely used and barely useful military plane that flies through both enemy flack and Congress with the mysterious power to cloud men's minds, learned in the far eastern part of Lockheed Martin's corportate HQ:

The United States' top fighter jet, the Lockheed Martin F-22, has recently required more than 30 hours of maintenance for every hour in the skies, pushing its hourly cost of flying to more than $44,000, a far higher figure than for the warplane it replaces, confidential Pentagon test results show…..

While most aircraft fleets become easier and less costly to repair as they mature, key maintenance trends for the F-22 have been negative in recent years, and on average from October last year to this May, just 55 percent of the deployed F-22 fleet has been available to fulfill missions guarding U.S. airspace….The F-22 has never been flown over Iraq or Afghanistan….

"It is a disgrace that you can fly a plane [an average of] only 1.7 hours before it gets a critical failure" that jeopardizes success of the aircraft's mission, said a Defense Department critic of the plane who is not authorized to speak on the record. Other skeptics inside the Pentagon note that the planes, designed 30 years ago to combat a Cold War adversary, have cost an average of $350 million apiece and say they are not a priority in the age of small wars and terrorist threats….

After deciding to cancel the program, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates called the $65 billion fleet a "niche silver-bullet solution" to a major aerial war threat that remains distant. He described the House's decision [to spend $369 million to $1.75 billion more to keep the F-22 production line open] as "a big problem" and has promised to urge President Obama to veto the military spending bill if the full Senate retains F-22 funding……

How have the political and military scientists kept this beast a-flying all these years?

[The F22's] troubles have been detailed in dozens of Government Accountability Office reports and Pentagon audits. But Pierre Sprey, a key designer in the 1970s and 1980s of the F-16 and A-10 warplanes, said that from the beginning, the Air Force designed it to be "too big to fail, that is, to be cancellation-proof."

Lockheed farmed out more than 1,000 subcontracts to vendors in more than 40 states, and Sprey -- now a prominent critic of the plane -- said that by the time skeptics "could point out the failed tests, the combat flaws, and the exploding costs, most congressmen were already defending their subcontractors' " revenues.

John Hamre, the Pentagon's comptroller from 1993 to 1997, says the department approved the plane with a budget it knew was too low because projecting the real costs would have been politically unpalatable on Capitol Hill.

The rest of the long and detailed story tells of many of the specific manufacturing and operational problems the plane has had, from crappy coatings to subpar subcontracting. It might be more detail than you care about, but hey, you're paying for it! It's more detail than most congressmen care about too, and that's exactly the problem.

And let me repeat this line, with italics: "The F-22 has never been flown over Iraq or Afghanistan."