The United States can learn a lesson in defense spending from Israel. Since 2005, Gaza militants have launched over 4000 rockets at Israel. Most were homemade, costing only a few hundred dollars. Remarkably, Israel has developed an anti-rocket defense system that can knock down 80% plus of incoming rockets.
Originally, Israel's defensive system utilized missiles that cost $100,000 each, a price that made the rockets unaffordable and cost-ineffective, since many of the militant's rockets caused relatively little damage and few injuries. Today, the anti-rocket missile cost just a few thousand dollars each and the system's operator is still cutting costs. For example, most missiles utilize exotic polymers that retain their size and shape in spite of changes in heat and pressure caused by changes in altitude, velocity, etc. Israel recognized that its anti-rocket missiles had low trajectories, meaning aluminum casings would work as well as the exotic polymers. (To read more, cf. Karl Vick, "The Secret of the Wonder Weapon That Israel Will Show Off to Obama," Time, March 19, 2013, p. 17.)
In sharp contrast, U.S. defense procurement almost invariably wants the best, an ill-defined term that has a moving definition that frequently shifts during lengthy design, test, and evaluation processes, as well as once actual procurement has begun.
This video summarizes the dysfunctional and wasteful procurement process of the F-22 Raptor:
Procurement of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter makes the Raptor look like a bargain:
· 2001: Year in which work on the fighter began.
· 2012: Year in which full-rate production was set to begin.
· 2019: Year in which full-rate production is now scheduled.
· $233 billion: Estimated total cost in 2001.
· $397 billion: Current estimated total cost, according to the Washington Post.
· $84 billion: Amount already spent on the F-35.
· 2,852: The number of planes originally ordered by the Pentagon in 2001.
· 2,443: The number of planes currently on order. In 2010, the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission recommended cutting the number of planes ordered for the Navy and the Air Force by half and scrapping the Marines’ version, which has been plagued by the most problems.
· 65: The number of planes that have already been built, even though testing of the fighter is far from complete. And when all the tests are finished, "there will be no yes-or-no, up-or-down decision point," Pierre Sprey, one of the chief architects of the Air Force's older F-16 Fighting Falcon, told the Post. "That's totally deliberate. It was all in the name of ensuring it couldn't be canceled."
· 365: The number of planes set to be complete by the time testing is finished in 2018.
· $81.7 million: Estimated total cost per plane in 2001.
· $162.5 million: Current estimated total cost per plane.
· 133,000: The number of jobs the F-35 currently supports, according to Lockheed Martin.
· 260,000: The number of jobs Lockheed says the fighter will support when full production starts.
· 45: The states over which Lockheed and its subcontractors and suppliers have spread the F-35 work.
· $15.3 million: Amount Lockheed spent on lobbying in 2012, according to OpenSecrets.
· $6.5 billion: Lockheed’s approximate revenue from the F-35 in 2012, according to a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. While that figure represented 14 percent of the company’s total revenue last year, Lockheed said in the filing that it expects the F-35 “to represent a higher percentage of our sales in future years.”
· $1.5 trillion: Amount it could cost to develop, build, fly and maintain all the F-35s on order for 55 years — the lives of the planes — according to Pentagon estimates cited by Bloomberg. (Theodoric Meyer, "The Most Expensive Fighter Jet Ever Built, by the Numbers," ProPublica, March 14, 2013)
Boeing and the military have designed the F-35's procurement without reasonable decision points, making cancellation costly. Distributing production to 45 states makes cancellation politically costly. Furthermore, the military argues that the plane is essential because it is the only new aircraft in the pipeline. However, no other nation has a fighter of comparable capabilities, nor is another nation likely to have one.
The money wasted on the F-35 would go a long way towards repairing America's aging infrastructure, expenditures that not only would put people to work but that would also improve the nation's global competitiveness. Alternatively, the money wasted on the F-35 if invested in education, healthcare, or other human services would pay dividends in terms of improved quality of life and perhaps longevity.