[Romney] also secured the support of the second voter he reached, who was apparently a defense industry worker.Now read the entirety of this article by Chuck Spinney, Thomas Christie, Pierre Sprey, and Winslow Wheeler. Here's the most important bit on the subject of the F-35:
"I was a little disappointed to see the president pull back on the F-35 program," Romney said, talking on a cellphone and with a list of printed out list of [sic] names and numbers in front of him.
Moreover, if the F-35 lived up to 100% of its depressingly modest design specifications, it would still be a complete failure in combat utility: a bomber of shorter range, lower payload and far higher vulnerability than the Vietnam War’s appallingly flammable, underperforming F-105 Lead Sled; an air-to-air fighter so unmaneuverable and sluggish in acceleration that any ancient MiG-21 will tear it to shreds; and a close support fighter that is a menace to our troops on any battlefield, unable to hit camouflaged tactical targets and incapable of distinguishing friendly soldiers from enemies. Individually and collectively, we often fretted with Boyd on the irresponsibility of equipping our people with such foolishly complex weapons designs, so bereft of practical combat effectiveness—and on the deep corruption of acquisition programs, such as the F-35’s, that deliberately plan to buy a thousand or more units long before user testing has fully probed combat utility.The authors of this piece are experts in defense acquisition, weapon system design and testing, and the politics of national security. Mitt Romney seems to have a fair grasp of the latter, though he is not an expert in the other areas (and presumably neither is the voter that he spoke to).
The F-35 is a failed program. Mitt Romney doesn't care. Neither do any of the other candidates, which is primarily a reflection of the fact that most Americans – most voters – don't care, and the ones that do care are much less interested in the program's combat effectiveness than its function as a source of jobs and economic stimulus.
American taxpayers are pouring outrageous amounts of money into weapon systems that don't work as advertised, aren't delivered on schedule, and cost more than expected—but the costs are diffuse, spread over many years and several budget lines, and are unlikely to have a negative impact on the welfare of individual voters that is even remotely comparable to the effects of program termination. In short, to the people who matter to the political process – candidates and voters – all weapon spending is essentially good spending.
But what about our business? What about the so-called "defense intellectuals," the military analysts and journalists and budget wonks and policy writers and bloggers? Don't we have a bigger responsibility? That's where Spinney, Christie, Sprey, and Wheeler come in again—and they're at their excoriating best:
Here [citing uncritical advocacy for F-22 and F-35 by one think-tanker] is a paradigm of the moral decay so visible among contemporary Washington defense “intellectuals.” These dabblers in defense pretend to serve seriously the real needs of our national defense and our people in uniform—when, in fact, they are serving the needs of foundations, universities, non-profits or politicians funded by defense mega-corporations seeking to expand their sources of government largesse. And, even in a shrinking economy, these dabblers easily find comfortable home bases and plenty of venues to publish or broadcast their paeans to big ticket programs and budgets.Here are the facts:
1) The F-35 has already cost a fortune and seems unlikely to perform adequately in the range of missions for which it is meant to be suited (though this is still uncertain, as the aircraft was rushed into large-scale production before sufficient operational testing could be completed).
2) Notwithstanding the above, Mitt Romney and Jim Carafano still are "a little disappointed to see the president pull back on the F-35 program." (I get the feeling Carafano's phrasing would be less delicate; again, those are the candidate's words.)
Somebody ought to say something, huh?
But really: how does this ever change? How can the incentive structures of American politics be altered to ensure that parochial concerns entirely peripheral to military effectiveness aren't permitted to dominate entirely the weapon system development and acquisition process?
I wish I knew the answer to this. But after several years of raging against the machine, I'm disappointed to tell you that I don't. Spinney et al. have some ideas, but one can't help but think that their collective decades of experience in the game and relative failure to enact meaningful change suggests that a sense of hopelessness is not only justified, but entirely appropriate.
UPDATE: In case you're not feeling melancholy enough, I should also have mentioned this excellent and topical piece by David Axe on the failures of another acquisition program, the Joint Tactical Radio System—headlined "Army seeks 'perfect' radio, creates boondoggle."