The federal government will spend more on defense next year. It doesn’t matter which party controls Congress – the Biden administration wants to kick spending up to $813 billion, congressional Republicans want a little more.
What are we getting for all that money? According to data in a January 2022 report from the Congressional Budget Office, two-thirds of the defense budget goes to “operation and support” – which includes things like maintenance and personnel costs – and a third toward buying equipment and research and development on new systems.
It’s inside that third of the budget where some of the real problems lie – problems that reflect not just on the Defense Department’s ingrained insistence on pursuing new weapons, costs be damned, but Congress’ seeming reluctance to act as effective stewards of the taxpayers’ money.
But according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office, the F-35 is still largely untested, and its costs continue to rise – a real concern considering the program is currently estimated to cost “$1.7 trillion to buy, maintain, and operate.”
One might think with so much taxpayer money on the line, the DoD would make sure its new fighter was safe and reliable before making a major purchase order. Nope. As the GAO found, it’s just the opposite. The DoD hasn’t given the green light to put the fighter into full production due “largely from problems and delays developing the F-35 simulator, needed for crucial testing.” And there’s currently no timeline for when such testing might get started.
No testing? Surely that’s going to be fixed before the purchase orders start flowing right? Wrong:
DOD is planning on acquiring up to 152 aircraft per year. At that rate, DOD would purchase about one-third of all planned F-35 aircraft before achieving this production milestone, which increases risk.
What does that mean?
For example, it means that more aircraft will need to be fixed later if more performance issues are identified, which will cost more than if those issues were resolved before those aircraft were produced.
Is this just a case of bureaucratic nerves getting in the way of cool new weapons? Nope:
At the same time that DOD is purchasing aircraft at these high rates, those that are already in the fleet are not performing as well as expected.
And if that isn’t enough, there are the increasing delays in updating the aircraft’s hardware and software:
DOD is also 4 years into development of its modernization effort, known as Block 4, which is continuing to experience cost growth and schedule delays. Block 4 costs continued to rise during 2021 due to higher costs associated with upgrading crucial hardware and testing upgrades, among other things. The program office extended Block 4 development and delivery into fiscal year 2029—which is now 3 years beyond the original plan…
And so on. The bottom line is that for all the gee-whiz stuff associated with the F-35, it’s also a fiscal black hole. In fairness, it’s not the first weapons system to run into runaway costs and lengthy delays. It’s also true that some of these earlier programs were canceled or greatly scaled back.
Which gives us hope that, even though the Pentagon has its checkbook ready to buy a slew of F-35s ASAP, the GAO report may spur Congress to exercise some effective oversight.
It’s time they do. While the Constitution requires the federal government to “provide for the common defense,” there is no section or clause saying it must be done regardless of cost.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of American Liberty News.