Friday, July 10, 2009

Aerospace socialism.

Back in the day, Ed Koch was a congressman representing the district on Manhattan's East Side that had been John Lindsay's before he became mayor. During Koch's congressional incumbency he coined the term "aerospace socialism" to describe the regime governing military procurement in this country: the all-too-cozy relationship among defense contractors, the Pentagon, and the congressional committees charged with oversight of the defense budget.

Unfortunately, that regime is still alive and well, as this article from today's Washington Post attests. The F-22 fighter program started, perhaps characteristically, with what the prime contractor and the Pentagon knew was a lowball cost estimate intended to make it palatable to Congress, as one former defense procurement official admits, adding that he's not proud of his role in this. An aircraft designer, Pierre Sprey, is quoted as saying the F-22 program was deliberately made "too big to fail, that is, to be cancellation-proof." In addition:

Lockheed farmed out more than 1,000 subcontracts to vendors in more than 40 states, and Sprey -- now a prominent critic of the plane -- said that by the time skeptics "could point out the failed tests, the combat flaws, and the exploding costs, most congressmen were already defending their subcontractors' " revenues.
Most troubling is the statement of former Pentagon weapons testing expert Thomas Christie that the F-22's enormous costs have caused the Air Force to ignore the rest of its arsenal, putting it on a course of "what we used to call unilateral disarmament."

Update: Obama says he'll veto an appropriations bill if it includes funding for F-22s beyond what the Defense department wants.

7.21 update: Responding to the President's veto threat, the Senate today voted to strip additional F-22 funding from the defense appropriations bill.

1 comment:

  1. On a similar note, I still remember a press conference from the 1990s, when an Air Force General complained (publicly!!) about the fact that Congress had mandated the purchase of more C-17 cargo aircraft than the Air Force had even requested.

    As the reporters present pursued this point, the General revealed that for the previous several years, Congress had been appropriating to the Air Force more of these planes than they requested, or even could use.

    "What will you do with all of these planes?" asked one reporter.

    "Give 'em to the Air Force Reserve, I guess," answered the General.

    You know, that guy was probably taking an enormous career risk by making this fact public, and I wouldn't be surprised if he "retired" soon thereafter.