This post was written by Sarah Jaffe, a blogger, freelance journalist and Nation intern.
As symbols of the overinflated military budget go, the F-22 takes the cake. The Washington Post recently reported that the jet costs $44,000 an hour to fly (in addition to its $350 million price tag) and requires 30 hours of maintenance for every hour it spends in the air. Military experts agree that the F-22 is outdated and unnecessary. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has called the plane a “niche silver-bullet solution,” and has urged President Obama to veto any bill that continues reinstated funding for the jet.
The F-22 was designed in the 1980s to fight presumable Soviet fighter planes that had yet to be developed, and has suffered since its inception from flaws and budget overruns. It has never been flown over Iraq or Afghanistan. There is even a lawsuit, recently reopened, alleging that Lockheed Martin, producers of the jet, has knowingly supplied defective F-22s to the Air Force since 1995.
In a Washington Post op-ed, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz wrote:
This is the time to make the transition from F-22 to F-35 production. Within the next few years, we will begin work on the sixth-generation capabilities necessary for future air dominance.
We support the final four F-22s proposed in the fiscal 2009 supplemental request, as this will aid the long-term viability of the F-22 fleet. But the time has come to close out production. That is why we do not recommend that F-22s be included in the fiscal 2010 defense budget.
Yet Congress seems determined to keep manufacturing the jet despite Gates’ recommendation to cancel the program. The House approved a measure to spend $400 million on the F-22, and the Senate is expected to soon vote.
Both the United Steelworkers and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers are appealing to lawmakers to keep production going in order to save jobs but there are cheaper and less bellicose ways to provide manufacturing jobs for American workers than building planes we don’t need that hemorrhage cash. The problem is that the military budget is such a sacred cow that Secretary Gates’ four percent increase in his budget was spun as, essentially, a cut that would open America up to terrorist attacks.
That’s why the full Senate is taking up the issue of the F-22 this week, after the Armed Services committee voted to spend $1.75 billion more on the jet. The votes are, for once, not split along party lines–Senator John McCain is an ardent opponent of the jet, while staunch Democrats like John Kerry and Edward Kennedy are on the F-22’s side. But Lockheed has done a good job of spreading the money and jobs around–more than 40 states have F-22-related jobs, and 58 percent of Lockheed’s political contributions go to Democrats.
Under President Obama, we have a chance to cut some of the waste from the military budget and redirect that money to critical healthcare initiatives and for programs that will provide more jobs at less cost.