Maybe Boeing should have a crack at the F-35.
President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday suggested the U.S. government should cancel a planned order with Boeing for planes to serve as the new Air Force One, making the aircraft maker the latest company to come under scrutiny by the incoming commander-in-chief. Taking to his favored communication tool, Trump tweeted that the cost for a new plane for future presidents was “more than $4 billion. Cancel order!”
Presidents don’t normally weigh in on details of federal procurement contracts. Those are issues left to the Cabinet secretaries and their procurement officials. But Trump is anything but a “normal” president-elect. He has promised to shake things up in Washington, to “drain the swamp” and make major changes to totally revamp the bureaucracy.
When Trump presided at the opening of his new Trump International Hotel in Washington, he crowed that the project had been completed “under budget, ahead of schedule.” Well, the Pentagon doesn’t do “on time” or “on budget,” much less under budget or ahead of schedule. Cost overruns and very late delivery are the norm in most all Defense Department procurements.
So, while the president has chosen to pick on Boeing for what he says is a $4-billion airplane, there are many more heinous examples of outrageous waste and abuse among Pentagon contractors.
Take for example the trillion dollar F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is an impressive aircraft: a fifth generation multirole fighter plane with stealth technology. It’s also a symbol of everything that’s wrong with defense spending in America.
When it comes to cost overruns, Exhibit A is incontestably the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a plane whose total acquisition costs were pegged at $233 billion back in 2001. (Even the F-35 pilot’s helmet costs $400,000 apiece.) That price now is an estimated $1.4 trillion for far fewer than the 2,443 planes originally planned. Put another way, the Pentagon is spending far more on this plane than Australia’s entire GDP ($924 billion).
In test flights the F-35 has failed to outperform the F-16, a plane it is supposed to replace. It will be, hands down (or flaps up), the most expensive weapons system in history — at least until the next Pentagon doozy comes along.
In addition to being over budget, it will also be very late. The F-35 program had originally promised 1,013 fighters by fiscal year 2016 but has delivered only 179. The last of the F-35s won’t be delivered until 2040, at which point who knows how they will perform against next generation aircraft, possibly all drone fighter jets.
The new Ford class aircraft carrier is yet another example of massive cost overruns by Pentagon contractors. The $13-billion USS Gerald R. Ford is already two years behind schedule, and the U.S. Navy’s newest aircraft carrier is facing more delays after the Pentagon’s top weapons tester concluded the ship is still not ready for combat despite expectations it would be delivered to the fleet this past September.
The USS Ford is the first of three Ford-class carriers ordered by the Navy with combined cost expected close to $42 billion. At a recent meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Chairman John McCain was sharply critical of the delays and cost overruns: “After more than $2.3 billion in cost overruns have increased its cost to nearly $13 billion, the taxpayers deserve to know when CVN-78 will actually be delivered, how much developmental risk remains in the program, and if cost overruns will continue.” He is absolutely right. Taxpayers are entitled to some answers.
Changing the Pentagon procurement habits will be as slow as changing the course of a 100,000-ton aircraft carrier. So, given Trump’s obsession with “on time and on budget,” he may be tearing out his long, orange locks in frustration over endless Pentagon budget overruns and delays over the next four years.
But, I’m sure the project to gold-plate the interior of the new Air Force One will come in under budget and ahead of schedule. Yeah, right!