This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.
Sometimes even the military wants no part of the military-industrial complex.
Congress has a long, long tradition of treating military programs as pork – buying weapons for the benefit of home districts and political allies, not the armed forces.
The most flagrant recent example was the relentless congressional effort to perpetuate production of the F-22 Raptor, a futuristic stealth jet that’s all but irrelevant to the kind of fighting U.S. forces are actually doing. The Raptor would be right at home in a science fiction flick, but it can’t do a thing to fend off road bombs in Iraq or mortar attacks in Afghanistan. And it costs $331 million a copy.
Further production of the F-22 was finally shot down last week after sustained attack by President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Sen. John McCain and others willing to face down the jet’s powerful backers.
But they beat off only the first wave. The Pentagon remains besieged by $6.9 billion of other equipment – helicopters, warships and jets – that the Pentagon could do without.
Example: five VH-71 presidential helicopters that the president himself says he doesn’t want. They cost $400 million, which would go a long way toward buying items U.S. troops in Afghanistan actually do need.
Example: three new C-17 transport planes – costing $674 million – for a fleet the Air Force says is already sufficient.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that more than $1 billion worth of the unwanted equipment was specifically requested by private companies that donated $767,190 to members of the defense appropriations subcommittee. Compared to this spectacle of venality, sausage-making looks downright lovely.
For 20 years now, weapons-makers have desperately pushed to keep on selling equipment whose original rationale expired when the Cold War fizzled out: Seawolf submarines, additional F-14 and F-16 fighters, and lower-profile hardware. Then there’s the Raptor, which radiates glamour but doesn’t support the military’s real-world mission.
Years ago, Congress found a way to stop protecting military bases for the sake of local payrolls: It empowered an independent base-closing commission to identify surplus bases. When the commission did so, lawmakers had to vote yea or nay on the entire list. It worked by depoliticizing the decision.
A process like that might just help the U.S. military fend off equipment it doesn’t want and doesn’t need.