Socrates: “First shouldn’t we explain how a democracy becomes an oligarchy?” 

Adeimantus: “Yes.” 

Socrates: “The crucial step is that the rich figure out how to manipulate politics so the laws benefit them instead of the public.”

Adeimantus: “So it seems.”

The federal government contract that procures the F-35 is a case study in how a select few are being benefitted at the expense of the American populace.

The cost per plane of the F-35 runs from $94 to $122 million initially and that figure does not include sustainment costs that all add up to make the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program a trillion dollar program. These costs are added into the defense budget in future years with little oversight or fanfare. 

Our current real national debt is over $25 trillion. Real meaning the black and white numbers the government shows the world. From 1981 to 2010 the national debt rose to $12.5 trillion. In the subsequent ten years the real national debt doubled. And the U.S. is looking at a record debt for this year that may breach $3 trillion – a number that is unprecedented and was unthinkable a few years ago.

The term real national debt does not take into account unfunded entitlements and mandates such as Social Security, government pensions, or the Veterans Administration. I care about the future funding of these programs as a disabled veteran myself. Yet it is not merely out of control spending in Washington that is exploding the debt. From 1973 to 2007, U.S. citizens borrowed $11.3 trillion just to keep up with the Jones.

All of this brings us back to the latest defense boondoggle – the F-35.  

This is the most expensive defense program in U.S. history. Cost estimates for the F-35 have increased annually for the past fifteen years. In 2014, the General Accounting Office (GAO) found that the F-35 fleet would have operating costs 79 percent higher than the aircraft it was to replace. A 2015 Pentagon Selected Acquisition Report said that program costs had increased 43 percent from 2001. The report stated that the F-35A’s cost per flying hour is $32,500 while the F-16C/D is $25,500 as reported by Popular Mechanics on July 27, 2019. Critics have argued that the purpose of Lockheed Martin’s extensive national and global supplier base which includes 1,300 suppliers in 45 states and nine foreign countries was more about the point Socrates made than the factors of logistics efficiency and security. Spreading the work around ensures that many Senators and Congressmen will vote to keep the program going, because elements of these programs are in their states and districts.

In addition to the cost per plane and the lifetime upkeep, there is the issue of quality. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program test officials had identified over 3,200 deficiencies with the aircraft. Those problems include according to a May GAO report, “specific instances where the weapon system either does not meet requirements or where the safety, suitability, or effectiveness of the weapon system could be affected.”

Watergate’s Deep Throat famously said, “follow the money.” 

In the 1972 election cycle campaign spending for the House and Senate was only $87 million. In 2010, that figure had grown to $4 billion. It is not just the F-35 program, but you could substitute any big-ticket government program. This problem is not limited to just defense programs. 

Gone are the days of the part-time legislator as our founders intended. The F-35, however necessary, in our global posture and future wars needs to be examined to the benefit of the taxpayer and not for the full-time lawmakers and their largess. Socrates, Deep Throat and the Citizen – Everyone of them was and is more important than any politicians pet project.

Dr. Phil Kiver is an Army veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. He has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Eastern Washington University and a graduate degree in Military History from American Military University. He recently completed his course work in his doctoral program in strategic studies at Henley-Putnam University. His has two amazing daughters, one a budding biologist and the other surely going to Mars.


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