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Billion Dollar Airplanes or Schoolbooks?

Anyone who denies there are big flaws in our military’s procurement practices is light on scruples and probably the CEO of, say, Boeing (among others)… or maybe both.

Anyone who believes that if America had no military the world would live in peace and harmony is suffering from dementia. There’s always disagreement over the list of bad guys, but make no mistake, there are creatively evil people out there. Like it or not, America needs a military that can defend and support our interests. The problem is how we buy it.

Military SpendingClick image for larger >> 

The first pig at the barrel is foreign policy. Going off to every piss-hole in the snow costs a lot of money and may ultimately fail anyway. We’re still unraveling ourselves from two unneeded military adventures that, in large part, wrecked our economy. Now, voters expect a peace dividend so the money can flow elsewhere. But it’s not so simple.

Most legislators and corporatists like how big military talk plays at the ballot box. Lost jobs, tax rates, and trying to do right by troops who did what civilian leaders ordered are continuing costs. Costs that proportionately make Medicare look like a game of penny pitching. Iraqistan will cost us for decades.

Military doctrine is also a big driver. The US is equipped for WWIII, not guerilla wars like Afghanistan. Their mandate is to conduct 2 wars simultaneously. That takes lots of people, lots of very expensive equipment, and lots of money to run 0.6 mpg tanks. It ain’t cheap to blow things up.

Congress Says Soldiers Need More Pork Chops
There’s a lot less waste than you might think, not the least of which are the “unfunded mandate”, anti-pork barrel legislators who dangle the pork chops over the Pentagon. Congress sets detailed spending priorities for almost all major military programs – whether they make sense or not. If the military needs a new airplane Congress tells the military whether that is the airplane they want, regardless of whether it’s what the military needs. Almost every major weapons system sends business to all 50 states, regardless if those are the cheapest contractors.

Finally, Monday morning quarterbacking takes its toll. Legislators knowing zip about how to fight a war, along with Congressional and Presidential foreign policies, do their part to jack costs up. Politicians want to use military spending for jobs programs instead of efficient war-fighting, except when something happens. Then, they want to destroy whoever spent all that money on creationism schoolbooks than tanks.

And last, voters make decisions about military spending while knowing even less than Congress or the President. That doesn’t stop them from meddling with the process though.

Save a Penny, Spend a Penny Isn’t Always Smart
This chart shows some sample costs and what we could buy if we weren’t buying weapons. However, the list includes some items that may make a stronger case with a bit more information. A few examples:

  • Equipping soldiers – This isn’t the amount for every soldier. It’s an average across all soldiers. Depending on the mission, expenses vary greatly. Special forces soldiers cost considerably more than cooks. But regardless, we ask all troops to do more and more per person. There are no more soldiers that just tote rifles, they’re all multi-tasking like never before.
  • Abrams tanks – The US is scaled for large, Cold War missions. You need a lot of tanks for huge land battles, not so many for hunting terrorists in caves. We need a lot of tanks because the military still has a Congressional mandated mission to conduct both a large-scale war and a guerilla war.
  • B-2 bombers – A billion per is astronomical by anyone’s standards. However, the B-2 uses state of the art technology and there are relatively few of them. This is another weapons system with manufacturing work spread all over hell and back. Finally, the B-2 is for large-scale WWIII Wars. It was designed to carry nukes against well-equipped adversaries. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to risk your billion dollar airplane bombing a place like Baghdad where there wasn’t much chance of being detected in the first place and defended by people firing guns randomly into the air in hopes of downing one. We could have evaluated whether current airplanes could do the mission, whether we needed as many as we bought, and whether our anticipated adversaries had much of a defense against them.

Let’s face it, people like to see things blow up and if the military does anything, it blows things up very well. We’re a very shock and awe country. Compare a Bruce Willis movie where Bruce torches a skyscraper to a film depicting Bruce building the tower. It’s not even a close call.

Despite what many people believe, governing is an expensive, complex task. It takes knowledgable people who listen to the professionals (not manufacturers who aren’t necessarily pros) and not make it up as they go along. You must weigh the facts actually related to the task so you can make  better decisions. It’s not the place for toxic partisanship. Unfortunately, critical thinking skills are scant among politicians and voters.

Sadly, America has reached the point where the process drives spending  instead of people driving it.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

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