This jet fighter is a disaster, but Congress keeps buying itTony wyaad September 6, 2019 100 Comments
This is the Joint Strike Fighter or F-35 Lightning II. It’s planned to be America’s new advanced fighter jet. The $100 million plane is stealth, can fly at supersonic speeds and one version can even take off and land vertically. It’s one plane designed to replace the aging fleets of the Air Force, Navy, and Marines. It’s the jet fighter of the future. But in December, Donald Trump put the entire project in doubt with a single tweet. saying it’s too expensive. And Trump’s not wrong the 16 year, $1 trillion project is seven years late and seventy percent over budget. But the F-35 is much more than a government purchase and canceling it is nearly impossible. That’s because it’s deeply woven into the US government, military, and economy. President Trump meet the Military-Industrial complex. So US defense companies make a lot of money. Their best client is the largest military in human history and they sell their products to other countries too, making the US the largest arms exporter in the world. As a result, they are some of the biggest companies in the world. This all requires a unique relationship with the US government. Not only defense companies bid on contracts from the Pentagon, but all of their domestic and foreign sales must also be approved by Congress. As a result, these companies try and get as much support in Congress as they can and they’ve adopted a pretty smart strategy to do so. One thing every member of Congress can support is jobs in their home state. So major US defense companies spread their operations across as many states as possible. By doing so they can maximize the number of legislators inclined to support their projects regardless of political party. I did a quick search and found just a small portion of Boeing and Raytheon locations across the US, along with legislators who voiced support for these companies in Congress. Now if you include subcontractors like the 3,000 hired by Boeing in California, you can imagine how many jobs are at stake across the country. This strategy is called political engineering and defense companies have gotten pretty good at it. In August 2015, Lockheed Martin purchased Sikorsky aircraft known for making the iconic Marine One helicopter used by American presidents. That brought the company into the lucrative defense helicopter market. It was a smart business move but a smarter political one. See, Sikorsky aircraft is based in Connecticut and the northeast is one area where Lockheed had little political influence. Rivals, General Dynamics United Technologies and Raytheon were the area’s major defensive employers and therefore wielded the most important in Congress. But Sikorsky has 8,000 employees and Lockheed instantly became the third largest contractor in Connecticut and gain the political influence that comes with it . The Northeast is home to some of the defense industries most vocal supporters in Congress like Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut who wants Sikorsky to build the next Marine One in her own district. There’s no doubt political engineering the smart strategy; Defense companies get more business and more jobs are created in America. But with so much political support and widespread economic impact some of these defense companies have been deemed “too big to fail” . Even when they appear to be failing. Now, back to that F-35 project Trump threatened to cancel. Despite deep design flaws and constant problems, there have been no serious efforts to cancel or scale back the project. In, fact through more than three years of cuts to defense spending funding for the f-35 entirely been touched. That’s because the project was politically engineered to near-perfection. The Pentagon starting bidding for the F-35 in the mid-nineties It would be the largest defense contract in history, and Boeing and Lockheed Martin quickly emerged as the two contenders. Both had loyal supporters in Congress who were very eager to create jobs in their state. It was an intense competition and when Lockheed won the contract Boeing supporters quickly mobilized in Congress. Immediately they drafted legislation proposing to split the work between the two companies. When that failed they pushed award Boeing contracts for KC-767 tankers, C-17 cargo planes and radar-jamming Growler planes. Ensuring the Boeing factories in their states remained open. Today, the Lockheed Martin F-35 project supports a hundred and forty-six thousand jobs across 46 states. In fact, this interactive map is straight from the Lockheed Martin website. Parts for the plane are produced all over the country maximizing the number of stakeholders and ensuring broad bipartisan support in Congress. Lockheed Martin has also hired subcontractors in eight other countries to build components for the plane. And several allied countries have placed orders for their own militaries. Anything done to hurt the F-35 project could hurt those relationships. A procedure called concurrency also complicated things Concurrency is when a product goes into production before all the tests are complete. This is intended to speed up job creation because the sooner production starts the sooner jobs are created. So both defense companies and Congress are inclined to strike a deal quickly. But it’s a flawed practice that’s delayed the F-35 project by seven years. When testing reveals a problem, planes that have already been built need to be sent back and retrofited. The radar, still a problem. The helmet is too heavy. Inadequate fusion of sensor information, shortfalls in the performance distributed aperture system. That is not good. The autonomic logistics information system and other issues that are classified. And each military branch is also asking for its own distinct modifications, complicating the entire process. And its still inconclusive when the plane will be ready. The F-35 has been delayed so long it’s now unclear whether the US military even needs it anymore. America’s current enemies in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan don’t even have air forces, and the F-35 is far more advanced than anything Russia or China have planned. Despite all of this the F-35 project keeps moving forward with enthusiastic support in the US government. In 2010 the Department of Defense allowed Lockheed more time to fix design flaws. And in 2015 Congress actually added more money to the project without the military even asking for it. That’s because canceling the project would be an economic and political disaster. Thousands of jobs across the country would be lost, international relationships will be tested, and billions spent in taxpayer dollars would amount to nothing. But that’s exactly why Trump’s tweet was so surprising. See traditionally, defense companies negotiate projects privately with Congress and the Pentagon without any input from the president. But Trump seems to want to take a more hands-on role in contract negotiations which has completely rattled defense companies. And rightly so because while Trump can’t cancel the entire program he can refuse to purchase future F-35s. And that’s put a surprising degree of uncertainty in the defense industry and the US companies are scrambling to figure it out.