Senate votes to kill the F-22

I’ve been following the Obama administration’s attempts to reform the defense procurement process and cut unnecessary military spending, so I was happy to see the Senate side with the President and kill the F-22 fighter program. Fred Kaplan explains why this is so important.

This is a big deal: The Senate today voted to halt production of the F-22 stealth fighter plane, and it did so 58-40, a margin much wider than expected.

Not only is this a major victory for Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who lobbied strenuously (something he rarely does) to kill this program, and for President Barack Obama, who pledged to veto the defense bill if it contained a nickel for more F-22s. The vote might also mark the beginning of a new phase in defense politics, a scaling-back of the influence that defense contractors have over budgets and policies.

Then again, I might be dreaming. Surely things couldn’t be changing quite that much. Could they?

Kaplan explains how rare this is for Congress to kill a weapons program at the request of the White House. Hopefully a new level of seriousness will prevail on Capital Hill.

Of course, many Senators are still committed to old battles, and many Senators lined up behind the F-22 because of jobs in their districts. Defense contractors and their supporters at the Pentagon have known for years that the best way to preserve a program would be to sprinkle as many jobs around the country in as many districts as possible. As a result, many Democrats, including liberal Senators like Barbara Boxer, opposed the administration here and tried to keep the program going. On the other side, many Republicans who didn’t have a dog in this fight were willing to back the White House. Of course it helped that John McCain was a fierce advocate for killing the F-22.

One of the worst examples of putting politics over the national interest is Chris Dodd, who’s fighting for his political life as he faces a tough re-election campaign next year.

The floor debate was more transparently self-interested than usual. Dodd argued with intense passion that killing the F-22 would create a “dangerous gap” in America’s technical know-how. The next advanced fighter jet, the F-35, won’t enter production until 2014. The highly skilled workers who make F-22s can’t be expected to hang around four years; they’ll get different jobs, and they’ll be unavailable when the country needs them.

Levin took the floor to point out that production of F-35s actually starts next year and that the FY 2010 budget contains money to build 30 of them. In other words, Levin said, “There is no gap.” He wondered where Dodd got his information. Dodd replied that it came from the defense contractors. That’s where he probably got the whole speech, too.

We’re also seeing how important it was for Obama to keep Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Gates has slashed or killed a bevy of outmoded, over-designed, or unnecessary weapons systems in this budget. One or both houses of Congress have gone along with almost all of his swipes. Part of the reason for this compliance is Gates himself, who is almost universally respected; he’s known to be a hawk (a centrist hawk, but a hawk all the same), and he’s worked for Republicans as well as Democrats. In fact, he is a Republican.

Maybe it takes a Republican defense secretary to usher in a new era of defense politics. Are we in fact on the verge of such an era? There are many reasons to be skeptical (the annals of history among them), but what happened today might be a harbinger of something genuinely new.

  

Kill the F-22

An interesting battle is brewing in the Senate.

President Obama placed his political capital on the line Monday and reiterated his threat to veto a military spending bill unless the Senate removed $1.75 billion set aside to buy seven additional F-22 fighter jets.

Mr. Obama stepped up his campaign after liberal Democrats like Senators Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry of Massachusetts said they supported the purchases, arguing that the program would retain high-paying jobs in many districts nationwide.

The F-22, the world’s costliest fighter jet, is the most prominent weapons system that Mr. Obama wants to cancel or cut in his plan to rein in military spending. A vote by the Senate to keep producing the plane would be an embarrassing setback for him.

Obama’s argument is simple – the military doesn’t need or want more of these planes. Ironically, one of his allies here is John McCain, who deserves credit for his never-ending battle against wasteful military spending.

From a purely political point of view, Obama might welcome this fight, even if an initial loss in the Senate occurs. Obama needs to show he’s willing to get tough on spending, and a veto here would send a strong message.

  

Gates and Obama getting ready for big cuts in weapons systems

News about the Obama administrations plans for cuts in weapons systems is starting to leak out.

Two defense officials who were not authorized to speak publicly said Gates will announce up to a half-dozen major weapons cancellations later this month. Candidates include a new Navy destroyer, the Air Force’s F-22 fighter jet, and Army ground-combat vehicles, the officials said.

More cuts are planned for later this year after a review that could lead to reductions in programs such as aircraft carriers and nuclear arms, the officials said.

As a former CIA director with strong Republican credentials, Gates is prepared to use his credibility to help Obama overcome the expected outcry from conservatives. And after a lifetime in the national security arena, working in eight administrations, the 65-year-old Gates is also ready to counter the defense companies and throngs of retired generals and other lobbyists who are gearing up to protect their pet projects.

“He has earned a great deal of credibility over the past two years, both inside and outside the Pentagon, and now he is prepared to use it to lead the department in a new direction and bring about the changes he believes are necessary to protect the nation’s security,” said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary.

Gates is not the first secretary to try to change military priorities. His predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld, sought to retool the military but succeeded in cancelling only one major project, an Army artillery system.

Former vice president Dick Cheney’s efforts as defense chief under the first President Bush, meanwhile, are cited as a case study in the resistance of the military, defense industry, and Capitol Hill. Cheney canceled the Marine Corps’ troubled V-22 Osprey aircraft not once, but four times, only to see Congress reverse the decision.

The article highlights the difficulties Gates and Obama will face as they try to cancel these unnecessary and ridiculously expensive programs. This time we’re in the middle of a financial crisis, and Republicans have been howling about spending, so now Obama will be able to turn the tables on them.

Here’s more information on the F-22.

Gates’ first showdown looms with a $350 million–a–pop fighter jet. He has to decide by March 1 whether to add more F-22 Raptor fighters to the 183 purchased by the Bush Administration. For years, the Air Force has wanted to double the fleet, while Gates has made clear that he thinks 183 is sufficient. A month ago, some Air Force officials were saying privately that maybe 60 more F-22s would suffice. The Pentagon’s acquisition boss, John Young, recently detailed why more F-22s might be a poor investment. The F-22s that exist are ready to fly only 62% of the time and haven’t met most of their performance goals. “The airplane is proving very expensive to operate, not seeing the mission-capable rates we expected, and it’s complex to maintain,” Young said. Besides, he added, the Air Force plans on spending $8 billion to upgrade most of the F-22s it already has.

We can’t afford to spend more money here.

  

Cutting Cold-War weapons systems

When Barack Obama kept Robert Gates as Defense Secretary, most liberals were disappointed, and the news media focused on how this might impact Obama’s decisions regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While those issues are certainly important, Obama and Gates will be embarking on a mission to radically change the way the United States purchases military equipment.

But if you are a defense contractor who has enjoyed a decade of bottomless Pentagon funding, it was Gates’ comments about a struggle much closer to home that are keeping you up at night. “The spigot of defense spending that opened on 9/11 is closing,” he said. “With two major campaigns ongoing, the economic crisis and resulting budget pressures will force hard choices on this department.”

Gates, the U.S.’s 22nd Defense Secretary, has declared a low-key war against the military services and the way they develop and buy the weapons they use to defend the nation. Up until now, he has done that mostly by jawboning: The U.S. can’t “eliminate national-security risks through higher defense budgets, to do everything and buy everything,” Gates says in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs. That futile quest has led to weapons that “have grown ever more baroque, have become ever more costly, are taking longer to build and are being fielded in ever dwindling quantities.”

But his war of words is about to become very real. As he prepares a budget for next year, Gates must decide the fate of a number of fantastically expensive weapons programs the military services say they need. He can’t fund them all–and might be wise to take a knife to them all. In this, Gates has little choice: the military’s annual budget has finished growing, and the billions it once imagined it might spend on future weapons have evaporated. So cuts–and big ones–are coming, and Gates will be the man who makes them.

Though Gates was hired by George W. Bush to clean up the mismanaged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gates’ greatest legacy may come in what he calls a “strategic reshaping” that better outfits the U.S. military to wage coming wars. Future weapons buys must “be driven more by the actual capabilities of potential adversaries,” Gates told Congress a few weeks ago, “and less by what is technologically feasible given unlimited time and resources.” Pentagon procurement, he said, is plagued by a “risk-averse culture, a litigious process, parochial interests, excessive and changing requirements, budget churn and instability and sometimes adversarial relationships within the Department of Defense.”

With the release today of Barack Obama’s budget outline, we’re seeing that Obama and Gates are serious about these changes. You’re also hearing Obama talk about how we can’t afford any more “Cold War” weapons systems.

The articles linked above is worth a read. It discusses specific weapons systems, and the stunning costs associated with systems that we no longer need and may be obsolete in a world where inexpensive drones can do the job of piloted planes.

This will not be an easy fight. The problem is that Congress often overrides the needs and requests of the military. Many conservative Senators will scream about wasteful spending, but then they will defend grossly expensive weapons systems if it affects jobs in their districts. Democrats do the same thing.

Based on the “Cold War” rhetoric, it looks like Obama is ready for a fight. He should bring along enough Democrats, especially if they have to choose between health care and these weapons systems.

  

Obama’s speech

Barack Obama has always excelled when it was time to give a big speech, and he delivered again tonight. He explained the crisis we face, along with his plans to address it. Some of mentioned that Obama needed to offer some hope, and that of course was an easy task for Obama.

But, he took things much further. he laid down the gauntlet on his agenda. He made it clear that he was committed to addressing energy, health care and education – this year!

One of the interesting details was his reference to finding $2 trillion of spending cuts over the next 10 years that he wants to cut. He mentioned farm subsidies for large agri-business and “cold-war” weapons systems as necessary cuts. The political fights here will be significant, but he made it clear he was willing to make serious cuts.

  

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