By TOM KANDO
I am a numbers freak. Numbers are meaningful to me. The difference between a million and a billion is meaningful to me. But to many people, it’s a meaningless abstraction. That’s why when people read the information which I am about to present, they shrug with indifference. That’s why America is going broke, while no one pays attention.
Take the F-35 fighter jet. This is the new Joint Strike Fighter which is supposed to replace today’s aging fighter fleet. An article by W.J. Hennigan in the Los Angeles Times and the Sacramento Bee (April 19) tells us about the new plane’s cost and its many problems:
In 2001, Washington decided to develop and build about two and half thousand of these state-of-the-art aircraft - it can take off vertically and hover, like the British Harrier, it is a radar-evading stealth aircraft, etc. The initial price tag was $233 billion. Okay. That’s $95 million per airplane.
What’s happened in the intervening 11 years? For one thing, there has been an endless number of technical problems. And as usual, the cost-overruns have been astronomical. So far, the bill has doubled - to $400 billion. And whenever this happens, the government tries to save money by scaling down the number of units it wants to build and to buy - so the per-unit cost rises.
For example, 20 years ago, the Pentagon ordered 648 F-22 fighters for $139 million a piece. “Eventually, the military ended up with 188 airplanes...for $412 million each.”
Same with the B-2 Stealth bomber: That procurement went from 132 aircraft for $500 million each, to a total of 21 For $2.1 billion a piece (!) (See my earlier post about this insanity).
So now the Obama administration wants to build/buy fewer F-35's (so far 179 fewer). Meanwhile, the total price tag has risen to almost $400 billion. Ergo, per unit cost has doubled, to about $180 million.
But this is only the beginning. The Pentagon’s estimate of the program’s “lifetime cost - to develop, buy and maintain the planes” tops...hold your breath: $1.5 trillion. That’s $1,500,000,000,000, or $30 billion per year.
Comparisons are in order: The annual budget of the State of California (one tenth of the USA) is about $100 billion (the general fund). The annual budget of the California State University - which has half a million students and is the largest higher education system in the world - is about $5 billion. So this one airplane is going to cost the taxpayer one third of what our largest state spends every year, and six times the annual budget of the CSU. And there is no doubt that the cost overruns will be much greater, yet.
We are haggling about the estimated $60 billion cost of the proposed highspeed train. That’s $60 billion over a decade and a half, i.e. $4 billion a year. A pittance compared to the F-35.
What about the jobs aspect? Northrop just built a new $170 million assembly line at its complex. The complex is the size of 20 football fields, and it has an internal GPS system. Northrop is one of 260 companies in California alone(!) which participate in the F-35 project. The project will provide 27,000 jobs.
Woopty do! The same amount of money spent in education or in practically any other service can create hundreds of thousands of jobs!
I am reminded of 16th and 17th century Spain: World Power; builds Armadas and a military machine second to none; it polices the world; a century later, it is the poorest country of Europe. leave comment here
Saturday, April 21, 2012
By TOM KANDO