Time For Defense Spending That Makes Sense

Written by Gary S. Goldman on February 24, 2020

The United States remains at war, and we simply cannot afford to lose.

“Our brave troops have now been fighting in the Middle East for almost 19 years,” President Donald Trump recently put it in his State of the Union address. There is no end in sight, which is why we need to deploy every possible tool we have.

Trump added that: “We have spent more than $7 trillion in fighting wars in the Middle East.” He didn’t mention it, but some weapon systems are contributing to that expense without contributing to our victory. They simply aren’t pulling their weight.

For example, across all those years, the Pentagon has been paying Lockheed Martin to develop and deploy the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. And yet the F-35 has remained sidelined, unable to contribute to our war efforts even though it is more expensive than any other weapon system ever dreamed up.

The F-35 costs around $100 million per plane, and yet those planes aren’t accomplishing anything. By now the F-35, a program that started in the Clinton Administration, was supposed to have replaced five other type of aircraft. It was supposed to be a stealth fighter, invisible to radar and yet able to land on ships at sea. It was supposed to have cannon that would allow it to perform close-air support for warriors on the ground.

It isn’t doing any of those things.

When the F-35 did, finally, fly its first combat mission (in Afghanistan in 2018) the mission was a simple bombing run. “This is what the F-35’s first combat mission proves,” Michael Peck wrote in the National Interest after that mission. “It can take off. It can fly from its airbase to a designated location. It can drop a bomb. And that’s all, folks.”

As Peck points out, that F-35 was sent to destroy a pile of enemy weapons. That’s the sort of mission Air Forces have been performing since the 1930s. “Using the world’s most expensive aircraft to kill a bunch of guns on the ground doesn’t seem like the best use of taxpayer money,” adds Paul Szoldra. “That’s not to mention the fact this particular aircraft, with a range just over 1,000 miles, probably had to get aerial refueling on the way in and on the way out.”

Meanwhile, the costs of the F-35 program just keep mounting. Lockheed just won a $1.9 billion contract to perform maintenance on the F-35 fleet. That’s on top of the $34 billion the contractor will pocket to build almost 500 more F-35s.

The problems with the F-35 aren’t entirely Lockheed’s fault. For example, the Pentagon decided to order new planes even as the first models were being tested. This “concurrent” production and development meant that planes had to keep going back for repairs and retrofitting. That partly explains the big maintenance contract.

However, the big sticker price is something the Pentagon can no longer afford. Our military needs weapons that work and can be deployed, today, against our enemies. Instead of throwing more money at the failing F-35 program, the Pentagon is taking a sensible step by investing in an upgraded F-15. “The Air Force is officially picking up its first new F-15 in nearly 20 years,” reports Jared Keller.

That makes sense, because even though the Air Force hasn’t ordered any new F-15s since 2004, it’s been using the plane throughout the Middle East to attack enemy positions, protect troops and project power. The F-15 is an affordable option, and a proven military asset. Deploying a new version only makes sense.

“In Afghanistan and Iraq, nearly 7,000 American heroes have given their lives. More than 52,000 Americans have been badly wounded,” Trump added in his address. The U.S. has invested too much to lose these wars. The F-35 isn’t helping us win, but an upgraded F-15 will.