The Unflyable,The Unfloatable, and the Unnecessary

Before we get too involved in the latest bubbling brouhaha from House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) about yet another deficit standoff, there are still some elements of the GOP scuttling of last summer’s debt deal which deserve more attention.  On May 10, 2012 Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) and Representative Joe Heck (R-NV3) voted “aye” on H.R. 5652, [roll call 247] which in the simplest possible terms protected Defense Department spending from any cuts while doing violence to Department of Agriculture, Health Care, Medicaid, Financial Regulation implementation, and Social Services Block Grants including Meals on Wheels and other programs for the elderly and disabled.

This opens the opportunity to discuss what cuts to Pentagon spending might have been rationally considered?

The Unflyable F-22:  Last Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stepped in to announce new flight restrictions on this troubled aircraft, “…Panetta endorsed Air Force efforts to figure out why some F-22 pilots have experienced dizziness and other symptoms of an oxygen shortage while flying…” And, there’s more: “Panetta was briefed on the problem Friday, just days after a CBS “60 Minutes” report featured Capt. Josh Wilson and Maj. Jeremy Gordon, two F-22 pilots from Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton. Each said that during some flights, they and other pilots have experienced oxygen deprivation, disorientation and other problems. They cited safety concerns and the potential for long-term personal health problems.” [VAPlt]

“The stealth F-22 Raptor, at an estimated $420 million each, is America’s most expensive fighter jet. Despite going combat ready in late 2005, the plane has yet to take off for a single combat mission. The whole fleet, estimated to cost U.S. taxpayers up to $79 billion, was grounded for nearly five months last year as the Air Force investigated the mystery problem, but a solution was never found and the Air Force has cautiously allowed the planes to fly since.” [ABC]

The cost of the entire Social Services Block Grant Program is $1.7 billion annually.  [CBPP pdf] It would take 47 1/2 years for the Social Services Block Grant program to run up $79 billion in expenses.   But, apparently Representatives Amodei and Heck believe it’s a “better investment” to continue spending taxpayer dollars on an unflyable aircraft than Meals on Wheels?

An Unfloatable Boat:   What on earth could make us leery of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program?

“From the time the Navy accepted LCS-1 from Lockheed Martin on September 18, 2008, until the ship went into dry dock in the summer of 2011—not even 1,000 days later—there were 640 chargeable equipment failures on the ship.  On average then, something on the ship failed on two out of every three days. From the time the Navy accepted LCS-1 from Lockheed Martin on September 18, 2008, until the ship went into dry dock in the summer of 2011—not even 1,000 days later—there were 640 chargeable equipment failures on the ship. On average then, something on the ship failed on two out of every three days.”  [POGO]

But wait, it gets worse:

“These failures during deployment were not the last time LCS-1 would face significant operational challenges. Before and during the ship’s second set of rough water trials in February 2011, 17 cracks were found on the ship, according to the Navy’s Crack Monitoring Survey During Rough Water Trials Period #2 (enclosed).[13] For example, a crack over 18 inches long was found at the corner of the deckhouse near a bi-metallic strip that binds the ships aluminum deckhouse and steel hull together.”  [POGO]

What every ship needs — an 18 inch crack in the part that binds the deck and the hull together….  Think things couldn’t get worse?

“The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS-1) USS Freedom is plagued by extensive corrosion and manufacturing issues more recent and serious than anything the Pentagon or prime contractor Lockheed Martin has publicly acknowledged thus far.

This is based on a guided tour of the ship in dry dock, as well as sources intimately familiar with Freedom’s design, repairs and operations, U.S. Navy documents and defense analysts.

The vessel is rusting and blistered by corrosion in many areas, marred by crack repairs throughout the deckhouse and hampered by what appear to be flaws in vital piping systems.

Corrosion is particularly evident throughout the ship’s waterborne mission area, located at the Freedom’s stern, because of a large gap between the stern doors and the vessel’s deck floor, which allows water to pour in when the doors are closed. They are supposed to form a watertight seal (see photo.)” [Aviation Week]

Yes, the magazine has a picture.  And, how much as this LCS mess already cost U.S. taxpayers?  Answer:  $7.6 Billion. [Speier] How much did the Department of Agriculture spend on the SNAP (food stamp program) in 2011?  Answer: $75,669,320.  [SNAP annual report]  Now, divide $7.6 billion by $75.7 million — How long could we run the SNAP program?

The Dubious Double Engine:  The Bush Administration tried to kill it, the Pentagon doesn’t want it, the Senate voted it down, the House voted it down — but It’s Baacckkk!  That would be the duplicate engine for the F-35.

If we apply just a bit of imagination we can almost see this mechanical Banquo’s Ghost appear before Defense Secretary Leon Panetta who cries out: “What man dare, I dare: Approach thou like the rugged Russian bear, The arm’d rhinoceros, or the Hyrcan tiger; Take any shape but that, and my firm nerves Shall never tremble: or be alive again, And dare me to the desert with thy sword; If trembling I inhabit then, protest me The baby of a girl. Hence, horrible shadow! Unreal mockery, hence!” (MacBeth3:2)

However, no matter how many times the Pentagon, the Administration, or the Congress may shout out “Unreal mockery, hence!” members of the GOP in the House will resurrect it.

“Condemned as a $450 million-a-year boondoggle earmark from House leaders who represent General Electric jet engine workers, supporters on the GOP-controlled House Armed Services Committee yesterday included a provision in the fiscal 2012 Pentagon spending bill that would force the department to continue the dueling engine programs for the Joint Strike Fighter.

Section 215 of the markup from the tactical air and land forces committee, however, does not include any funding. Instead, it limits spending for improvements to the F-35 Lightning II propulsion system, now focused only on Pratt & Whitney engines, unless the secretary of defense continues with the General Electric engine project.”  [USNews May 4, 2012]

Yes, that is $450 million per year, for duplicate engines NO ONE wants.

It is all too easy to find waste and dubious transactions in the Pentagon Budget, but for all the $3,000 toilet seats and $500 hammers, there are some portions of the budget which might use more attention.

If the Pentagon could free itself from the expensive and evidently troubled programs such as those described above, could some funds be restored for military construction and family housing?  “The $4.9 billion sought for military construction and family housing is down from the $5.8 billion requested in fiscal 2011. Military construction carries that cut, as housing would see a $100 million increase over last year’s request.” [AT]

If the Defense Department didn’t have to fund duplicate engines at $450 million annually, then could we raise the pay for a new enlistee above $1,491 per month.  How many of us would put ourselves in harm’s way for $17,892 per year?  God Bless those kids, and most of them are our youngest and best, they’re barely starting out above the minimum wage, while willing to give us their maximum effort.

There are about 1,468,364 reasons to support Defense Department funding, those would be the young men and women serving this country, and they do need the best equipment we can provide. They need housing, medical services, and educational opportunities. They need better pay — what they don’t need are aircraft that can’t fly, boats that crack, and duplicate engines.   However, the Republican controlled  House of Representatives seems determined to sustain funding for DoD programs of highly dubious benefit at the expense of both our vulnerable military and civilian families.

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