An Ax, Not a Scalpel, for Expensive Weapons Programs

The information for the B61 was taken from: Noah Shachtman, “Pentagon Cries Poor, Starts $10 Billion Nuclear Weapon Upgrade,” wired.com/dangerroom, November 20,2012. The information for the F-35 was taken from: Christopher Drew, “Costliest Jet, Years in Making, Sees the Enemy: Budget Cuts,” The New York Times, November 29, 2012.

I. B61 Mod 12s
Refreshing the B61 nuclear weapon from the spin rocket motors to the electric generators will cost an estimated $10 billion. The U.S. has other bunker-busting weapons that might be employed if it were to come to an atomic showdown with North Korea or Iran, with its deeply buried nuclear facilities. These so-called B61 mod 12s are meant to replace the 180 or so earlier models now deployed in Western Europe.

The U.S. European Command — the Pentagon’s top generals in the region — believe there is no military downside to the complete removal of nuclear weapons from Europe, as the U.S. has thousands of nuclear weapons that can be delivered by various means.

But while the Defense Department is trying to save money, the costs of the B61s keepo going up: from $6 billion to $10 billion just this year.

II. The F-35: the Costliest Weapons Program in Military History
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the most expensive weapons program in military history but “it begins its 12th year in development years behind schedule, troubled with technological flaws and facing concerns about its relatively short flight range as possible threats grow from Asia.”

“The F-35 was conceived as the Pentagon’s silver bullet in the sky — a state-of-the-art aircraft that could be adapted to three branches of the military.” Warplanes designed to serve more than one branch of the service have had a history of failure. The F-35 catching hook, for example, designed to snag the catching cable on an sircraft carrier, was placed too near the front landing wheels and couldn’t catch the cable upon landing when tested. Todd Harrington, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, has said: “They were asking one fighter to do three diffferent jobs, and they basically ended up with three different planes.” Instead of sharing 70 to 80 percent of their parts, now they share 20 to 30 percent of the parts in common.

If the Pentagon sticks to its plan to build 2,443 F-35s by the late 2030s, that would cost taxpayers $396 billion, including research and development, nearly four times as much as any weapons system and two-thirds of the $589 billion the United States has spent in Afghanistan. The long-term operating costs of the F-35 are projected at $1.1 trillion. Analysts say that the Pentagon will be lucky to build even 1,200 to 1,800 of the jet fighters unless it can substantially reduce the cost of each plane.

Much as has been the case with building jet fighters over the past six decades or so, the F-35 is crammed with sophisticated electronic hardware, needing to test and secure 24 million lines of software code. Past experience indicates a lot of downtime for maintenance.

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