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The Pentagon's Latest War Plane Is Terrible at War — But That's Fine With Congress


The latest black eye for the mega-expensive F-35 warplane is a recent report noting the mediocrity of the plane in air combat situations:

The F-35 is an impressive disaster. On the one hand, its high-tech helmet is a technological marvel. The F-35B's hovering tricks are awe-inspiring. On the other hand, the Joint Strike Fighter is just out-and-out bad at some really basic fighter jet stuff. A new report from a test pilot really lays it bare: The F-35 can't dogfight.

The issues are laid out in a previously private but now non-classified report obtained by War Is Boring. In it, a F-35 test pilot enumerates his issues with the aircraft after a series of mock close-range engagements with the older, trusty F-16 back in January.

Those who follow these sorts of things will know that the F-35 is now famous for its sheer cost, and its inability to bring anything new and impressive in terms of reliability or military prowess. In other words, the F-35 is a perfect illustration of how the American military — perennially flush with nearly limitless cash — does business. It spends lots of money with no regard to economizing or prioritization. When one can always just go back to the taxpayer well  (via taxation or inflation via the central bank), there's no reason to stop throwing good money after bad. 

In fact, the F-35 has been deemed the "too big to fail" fighter because no matter how much the development process goes over budget, and no matter how expensive the plane gets, the US government is going to make sure it buys a lot of them, the taxpayers be damned. In fact, The Pentagon plans to spend $391.2 billion (more than one-third of a trillion dollars) on 2,443 aircraft, with each plane costing a staggering $160 million.

The US already has numerous highly-effective fighter planes and attack planes, but sticking with what is known to work, and with what would be economical doesn't really matter. What does really matter, it seems, is spending money. 

Recently John Basil Utley noted some reasons that the United States doesn't win wars anymore. The point, Utley writes, isn't to win and go home, but to keep the war — and thus the spending on war — going as long as possible: 

America doesn’t “win” its wars, because winning a war is secondary to other goals in our war making. Winning or losing has little immediate consequence for the United States, because the wars we startWars of Choice, are not of vital national interest; losing doesn’t mean getting invaded or our cities being destroyed. The following are some of the interests Washington has in not winning, reasons for our unending wars.

1) War sustains the (very) profitable log-rolling contracts for supplies in key congressional districts, grants for university faculties to study strategy, new funding for new weapons. During wartime who dares question almost any Pentagon cost “to defend America?”

2) Continued conflict postpones hard decisions about cutting defense spending such as closing surplus bases, cutting duplicate systems, and focusing on waste. See 16 Ways to Cut Defense. Shakespeare put it well, advising a king to have lots of foreign wars in order to have tranquility at home.

3) Starting wars is the historic way for kings (and presidents) to gain popularity and avoid doing tough domestic reforms for problems that cry out for solutions. War lets them be postponed. Think of George W. Bush winning election on promises to balance the budget, have health care reform, reform our bankrupt social security commitments, tackle the EPA, take on the teachers’ unions, rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, and such. Instead, with war, all those issues were swept aside. He won his re-election by having even bigger deficit warfare/welfare spending and increasing the national debt by trillions.

4) Private “contractors” profit from continuing crises. They don’t get paid in peacetime like ordinary soldiers, rather profiting from war, or at least from America having more enemies to guard against. In Iraq and Afghanistan we had hundreds of thousands of them, very well paid (often former military) and now largely in lesser-paid jobs.

Read the rest. 


Contact Ryan McMaken

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is a senior editor at the Mises Institute. Send him your article submissions for the Mises Wire and Power and Market, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has a bachelor's degree in economics and a master's degree in public policy and international relations from the University of Colorado. He was a housing economist for the State of Colorado. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.