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The Mechanics
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Column Sun Jul 19 2009

A Better Way To Spend $1.75 billion

An Op-Ed submitted to GB Mechanics by 5th District Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley.

New threats call for new strategy. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have taught us that the weapons of the Cold War are not well suited to the asymmetric challenges our nation faces around the world.

But the recent defense authorization bill to come out of the House of Representatives suggests that some haven't learned that lesson. It allocates funding for twelve F-22 fighter jets beyond what was requested by President Obama and the Department of Defense. These twelve unrequested jets, costing $140 million each, come on top of the 187 F-22s already provided for in the bill, which is now before the Senate. President Obama is so concerned by the inclusion of the unrequested F-22s that he has issued a preemptive veto threat.

Deciding whether to support funding for the extra twelve F-22s rests on two very simple questions: Are they necessary in the defense of our national security? Are there better options out there?

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who served under both President Bush and President Obama, has been a vocal opponent of the F-22 and called for an end to the program's funding. Gates has highlighted his opposition to the extra F-22s, stating that "there is no military requirement for numbers of F-22s beyond the 187" and that the idea of not buying twelve extra F-22s imperils our national security is "completely nonsense." He also observes that "we are fighting two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the F-22 has not performed a single mission in either theater."

Secretary Gates realizes that the F-22, a fighter jet designed for air-to-air combat against "near-peers" like China or Russia, is terribly unsuited to contemporary combat operations against non-traditional targets like small or failed states and terrorist groups. The 187 F-22s we're already paying for are enough.

By cutting the extra twelve F-22s, just think what the approximately $1.75 billion saved could provide for our troops. We could invest in body armor, armored tanks, and low-tech equipment such as unmanned drones that are effective in Iraq and Afghanistan and keep our soldiers out of harm's way. We must always remember that every defense dollar spent to build more F-22s is a dollar we can't spend in more vulnerable areas.

But the costs don't stop at building the jets. The Department of Defense says that the hourly cost of flying the F-22 exceeds $50,000, almost 167% of hourly operating costs for the F-22's predecessor, the F-15. Apparently the F-22's radar-absorbing metallic skin is vulnerable to rain, and the jet as a whole requires 33.8 hours of maintenance for every hour of flight time.

Is the F-22, acknowledged by Secretary Gates to be a niche solution to an unlikely combat scenario, worthy of this enormous investment? The answer is clearly no. We have to overcome institutional inertia, stop spending more, and start spending smarter.

As former President Eisenhower said, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."

Of course we need guns and warships and rockets; our military is vital to the defense of our homeland and provides the safety and security that we enjoy. We are far and away the most superior air force in the world. But that doesn't mean we should pour billions more into an area that we already dominate and continue to support an aircraft that isn't suited to our strategic needs and current battlefields. Cutting these twelve F-22s out of the budget won't make us any less safe, but we might be safer if we spend the money on more prudent projects.

Our taxpayers and our brave troops on the front lines deserve it.

GB store

Good Luck / July 20, 2009 11:26 AM

Mr. Quigley,

Congratulations on the special election win. If you plan on representing Illinois as a budget hawk, then we have made a good decision in electing you.

A couple of items in your article stood out. The first is that you base your opinion on the opinion of Sec. Gates, who spent 26 years in the CIA before joining the Bush administration. While I won't discount that he has a high-level of expertise in military operations, his background does not afford him any expertise in air force effectiveness (being a political appointee does not help, either).

His quote "we are fighting two wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the F-22 has not performed a single mission in either theater" does not carry weight when you consider that in 2005, each theatre's air combat operations were significantly reduced from their peaks of 2001 and 2003, respectively. The F22 entered active service in 2005 in a limited capacity.

The labeling of the F22 as a "niche" is grossly misleading. The F22 is meant to phase out and replace the F15 Eagle, which entered service 20 years ago in 1989. (On this point, its shocking that you are not aware) I'm sure the exact number is classified, but it is safe to assume that the number of F15s in service exceeds 187.

Given that foreign defense technology has improved to the point that the F15 is no longer a superior aircraft, and can be shot down by the defenses of modern countries that you cite, China and Russia, but that of countries whom Russia and China sell their defense technology. That list would include North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Syria, etc... and those are hardly benign governments.

Now I understand that your argument is that we could save money by eliminating 12 additional planes because they are unneeded, and that the marginal benefit of those planes is less than the marginal benefit of "other, more prudent projects". The problem here is that you fail to identify what those other prudent projects are.

... if your point is essentially a discussion on marginal benefits, I would be interested to hear your take on how the marginal benefit of reducing world carbon emissions by 4% (+/-) is worth raising the cost of everything that is manufactured in the US and raising energy prices via the Cap and Trade bill you just signed.

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