This is a story about political dysfunction in Washington.
Say hello to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.
The F-35 joint strike jet fighter is one of the costliest weapons programs in human history, with each plane costing $90 million and the project taking more than a decade to complete.
The price tag of the entire program has nearly doubled since 2001, coming in at a staggering $396 billion dollars. And, thanks to a number of production delays and safety concerns, that price tag is still rising.
When you combine the price tag of the program with Government Accountability Office estimated operating and maintenance costs of the planes– the total cost of the program reaches over $1 trillion.
And here's the really tragic and absurd part of this story. Thanks to the decade of delays, the technology in the F-35, once thought to be the best of the best, is now outdated.
The F-35 program is one of several in the current Pentagon budget that is stuck in the last century, and has failed to adapt to changes in modern day warfare.
Yet, Pentagon officials, like current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, are still pressing for nearly 2,500 of these absurdly expensive and already-obsolete F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
At a press conference in Ottawa, Canada last Spring, Panetta told reporters that, “As part of the defense strategy that the United States went through and has put in place, we have made very clear that we are 100 percent committed to the development of the F-35. It’s a fifth-generation fighter, [and] we absolutely need it for the future.”
What Panetta didn't point out is that over the course of the F-35 program, the world has changed. The F-35 is supposed to be the future of U.S. tactical airpower, but the fact is the entire program is a relic of the Cold War. Rather than face the current threats of today, like cyber warfare, we continue to pour billions, and potentially trillions, into the bottomless pits of projects like the F-35.
On March 1st, if lawmakers fail to reach a new federal budget deal, the automatic sequester cuts will go into effect. Under these cuts, a variety of federal agencies and programs will lose funding, including the Pentagon. If those sequester cuts go into effect, the Pentagon will face more than $500 billion in spending cuts.
Cue Republican war hawks like Sen. Lindsey Graham. Appearing on Fox News Sunday over the weekend, Graham said that, in order to avoid the looming sequester budget cuts that would, he said, "destroy" the military , we should instead eliminate healthcare to the 30 million Americans who are covered under Obamacare.
Instead of taking healthcare away from millions of Americans, lawmakers in Washington should kill the zombie of the F-35.
The Pentagon is facingt $500 billion in budget cuts if the sequester goes into effect. And, amazingly, that's about the amount left in the Pentagon budget for the F-35.
The fact of the matter is eliminating the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program really won’t put a dent in America’s military power.
As Congressman Justin Amash of Michigan, one of the few Republicans in favor of defense cuts, put it, quote, “We are spending maybe 45% of the world's budget on defense. If we drop to 42% or 43%, would we be suddenly in danger of some kind of invasion?”
No. We wouldn’t be.
But it would put a dent in the wallets of America’s war profiteers, which really concerns Republicans who are heavily funded by them, people like Senator Lindsey Graham.
And they sure can afford to fund Graham and his congressional buddies. In the past ten years, the defense industry has seen record profits.
In 2011, the combined profits of the five largest U.S.-based contractors were a staggering $13.4 billion. And, despite going through a recession that devastated both families and business across the country, the defense industry is still making record profits.
FDR said during World War II that, "I don't want to see a single war millionaire created in the United States as a result of this world disaster.”
But, in this new age of never-ending war, war profiteers are cashing in like never before. Glance across the Potomac from our nation’s capital, and you'll see virtual castles – thirty and forty room mansions in secure, gated communities - all belonging to the executives and lobbyists of today's war profiteers.
And thanks to these war profiteers and the Republican war hawks they own, it’s ingrained in the American psyche that any decrease in military spending means an automatic increase in the danger that Americans face in their everyday lives.
America has finally fulfilled President Eisenhower's warning in his famous 1961 farewell address.
America is the strongest military power in the world. And that’s not going to change anytime soon.
But while our defense contractors are prospering, working people across America are hurting. Schools and infrastructure are in shambles. We're slipping behind the rest of the developed world in virtually every available measure of national health and wealth.
It’s time to ground the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and other wasteful defense spending projects for good, and use that money to rebuild our economy, and to rebuild the middle class.
Which is the true investment in our future security.