The Obama administration, the Defense Department, and the American people recently scored an impressive Senate victory. It will be in our nation’s best interest if the pragmatic decision-making process exhibited by various actors in the F-22 defense project is broadly applied to other policy debates.
On Tuesday, the Senate voted to kill a proposed extension of the nation’s foremost fighter-jet program, the F-22 Raptor. Despite the aircraft’s technological superiority and political sensitivity, strategic flaws and financial concerns convinced the Senate to halt the program.
The F-22 came under assault as a quintessential illustration of government waste, specifically defense industry pork.
“We do not need these planes,” President Obama said. “To continue to procure additional F-22s would be to waste valuable resources that should be more usefully employed to provide our troops with weapons that they actually do need.”
President Obama, however, generally delegated opposition to the program to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Gates made stops throughout the country railing against the program. He joined former defense secretaries and Joint Chiefs of Staff in lending distinguished military credibility to the cause.
“The more stuff they buy we don’t need, the less we have available for the stuff we do need,” Gates told reporters. “It’s as simple as that. It ain’t a complicated problem.”
Sen. John McCain even joined his former rival on the campaign trail as the Senate’s chief spokesman against the F-22. McCain was perhaps the program’s oldest and most vocal critic, calling it “opaque and Byzantine” in 2006. McCain also called for a more prudent allocation of resources within the U.S. military before the Senate voted down the extension by a 58-40 margin.
In cutting the program, the administration and Senators overcame significant obstacles. Originally designed to counter perceived Soviet
aerial combat threats, the F-22 emerged as the world’s pre-eminent fighter jet. Its sleek design and stealth features are unrivalled (however, the likelihood that it will go unchallenged for decades only gave credence to the argument that manufacturing more jets was unnecessary).
Another notable impediment was the political element of the weapons program. Lockheed Martin, the plane’s designer, astutely distributed all aspects of the program throughout the nation. Therefore, individual Senators and Congressmen felt the pinch to continue the program under the auspices of ensuring economic development.
Ultimately, the hefty price tag, technical issues, and unnecessary capabilities rendered the program a failure. At $350 million per plane, it was difficult to justify expanding the program from the current stock of 187 to over 560 jets. The plane’s required 30-plus hours of maintenance per hour of flight, tendency to experience malfunctions in desert environments (sand), and the advent of another – superior – fighter jet program (the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter) doomed the F-22.
This massive program seemed like a logical segment to cut as the nation confronts the War on Terror and adjusts defense programs accordingly. The Obama administration put forth financially and militarily compelling arguments as it halted the F-22’s expansion. The question now is: will the Obama administration consistently display similar reasoning as it applies to other policy arenas?
For example, despite the consensus among economists regarding the benefits of free trade, will the President Obama continue to oppose Latin American free trade agreements as a payoff to a labor industry that vigorously backed his presidential campaign?
Will President Obama take on one of the Democratic Party’s core constituencies – trial lawyers – when what is good for attorneys is bad for
America? Will he mandate tort reform as part of his health care reform package and heed the advice of health-care experts who attest to attorneys’ role in the skyrocketing costs of health insurance?
Finally, will the president dare challenge the liberal teachers’ unions as he pursues education reform? Candidate Obama promised accountability and change within our nation’s education system. However, these values – tangibly represented by policies such as charter schools and merit pay – are typically staunchly contested by the powerful unions.
Sensible policy decisions should be lauded when they are reached. Their successes should also be analyzed and applied to relevant policy realms. Hopefully President Obama will have the audacity to do so.
StairwaytoKevin’s life story was famously documented in the film “Top Gun,” with a slightly less handsome man asked to portray StairwaytoKevin. He also enjoys shirtless volleyball and angry motorcycle rides.