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Another Hilzoy Must-Read: the F-22 Fiasco

This is among the many reasons I don’t want to see Hilzoy retire:

Yesterday, Barack Obama repeated his threat to veto the defense authorization bill if it contains money to buy more F-22 fighter jets. He’s absolutely right. I hope he prevails over the various Senators who are trying to put the money back in. For one thing, it’s not clear that our biggest need right now is for an even niftier fighter plane, as opposed to something that might come in handy in, say, Afghanistan. For another, the F-22 has a lot of problems. This Washington Post article is worth reading in its entirety. A few bits:

“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. (…)

“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. (…)

There have been other legal complications. In late 2005, Boeing learned of defects in titanium booms connecting the wings to the plane, which the company, in a subsequent lawsuit against its supplier, said posed the risk of “catastrophic loss of the aircraft.” But rather than shut down the production line — an act that would have incurred large Air Force penalties — Boeing reached an accord with the Air Force to resolve the problem through increased inspections over the life of the fleet, with expenses to be mostly paid by the Air Force.

Sprey said engineers who worked on it told him that because of Lockheed’s use of hundreds of subcontractors, quality control was so poor that workers had to create a “shim line” at the Georgia plant where they retooled badly designed or poorly manufactured components. “Each plane wound up with all these hand-fitted parts that caused huge fits in maintenance,” he said. “They were not interchangeable.”

[snip]

One of the problems with its high-tech skin is “vulnerability to rain”. Perhaps we’re only planning to use it in rain-free environments.

Think about this, though. Here we have a plane that suffers from huge problems, is incredibly expensive, and meets only seven of its 22 “key requirements”. It was designed for the Cold War, which is over. An Air Force Major is quoted in the article as saying that “it is one of the easiest planes to fly, from the pilot’s perspective”, but I’d imagine that ease might be outweighed by being imprisoned inside it, or having the boom give way and suffering “catastrophic loss of the aircraft”, or any of the other “critical failures” that occur once every 1.7 hours of flying time.

And yet, at a time when we need to save money, somehow Senators from some of the many, many states in which Lockheed-Martin’s suppliers are located cannot be persuaded to cancel it.

We need jobs. But there are many, many more efficient ways to produce them, and many investments that we genuinely need to make. This is not one of them.

Good on our President for recognizing such facts.

And damn it, Hilzoy… don’t leave us.

Comments

  1. says

    This morning the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a guest column, "U.S. military needs the F-22…" by Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson. Saxby Chambliss, you may recall, is the one whose 2002 campaign ads questioned the patriotism of Democrat Max Cleland – a Vietnam war veteran who lost 3 limbs in combat. Today's column extolled all the virtues of the F-22, yet failed to mention the initial cost for our fleet of this one airplane is equal to ONE HALF of China's ENTIRE annual military budget! From the WaPo article Hilzoy cited: "because of the plane's huge costs, the Air Force lacks money to modernize its other forces adequately and has 'embarked on what we used to call unilateral disarmament'… "Money pits like the F-22 are the reason why our guys had to up armor their HumVees in Iraq at their own expense – and a lot of them became casualties before they could get the job done.Hey Saxby, whose the partiot now? Shithead.