Weapons Makers as 'Welfare Queens'

When was the last time you saw the
headline, "Cost of [Pentagon-weapons-system-of-your-choice]
halved"?
Probably never. Still, the thought came to mind when this recent Associated Press
headline
caught
my eye: "Pentagon: F-35 fighter jet
cost doubles."

When was the last time you saw the
headline, "Cost of [Pentagon-weapons-system-of-your-choice]
halved"?
Probably never. Still, the thought came to mind when this recent Associated Press
headline
caught
my eye: "Pentagon: F-35 fighter jet
cost doubles."

Here's the story behind it:
Since
2001, when an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was expected to cost an already
hefty
$50 million, the plane's cost has soared into the stratosphere (despite
the fact
that the aircraft itself has barely left the ground). The estimated
cost
today is $113 million per plane. Yes, that's per plane.
This supposed future workhorse of the U.S. military is now priced like
the
planet's most precious gem. It's also 2 1/2 years behind
schedule
. Keep
in mind that the Marines, the
Air Force, and the Navy are planning to buy a combined 2,450 of them for
what's
now an eye-popping $323 billion. And if you think the costs are likely
to
stay in the $113 million range, given the history of Pentagon cost
overruns,
then I have a nice little national security bridge to Brooklyn I think
the U.S.
public might love.

In other words, if all goes
well from
here (an unlikely possibility), a single future weapons system is now
estimated
to cost the American taxpayer almost one-third of what the Obama
administration's health-care plan is expected to cost over a decade.
You
could even think of the Pentagon's weapons procurement process as the
health-care system of the national security state. Its costs just never

stop rising. In fact, the Government Accountability Office pegs major
weapons systems cost overruns since 2001 at $295 billion, another near third of the cost of the
health-care bill
supposedly coming to a vote this week.

And here's what's remarkable:
You
barely hear about such overruns. They're almost never front-page
headline
news, even though the money's being taken from not-so-deep taxpayer
pockets. And when truly terrible news, as with the F-35, comes in, all
that happens in Washington is that a few politicians mutter a
little. John McCain, for example, offered this less than stirring quote on the F-35:
"The taxpayers are
a little tired of this. I can't say that I can blame them"; and an
irritated
Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said: "We cannot sacrifice other important
acquisitions in
the DOD [Department of Defense] investment portfolio to pay for this
capability." (Bet you didn't even know that future weapons were part of
a
Pentagon "investment portfolio.")

In the case of Secretary
of Defense
Robert Gates, he's planning to hold back $614 million in "performance
bonuses"
from the plane's lead contractor Lockheed Martin. (And you thought only

bankers and financial wheeler-dealers got performance bonuses!) But
it's
striking that there are no tea party movements out in the streets of
America demanding our money back or
claiming that we're going to be broken by
this.

Here's an American reality: the
Pentagon
is our true welfare state, the weapons makers our real "welfare queens,"
and we
never stop shoveling money their way. It's time, as retired Lt. Col.
William Astore does at TomDispatch.com, to raise a few tough questions
about the
Pentagonization of our country and its
finances.