As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Robert Gates Is Not A Gangster

Somehow, the Defense Secretary got the Air Force to acquiesce to his demands to ramp down production of the F-22.

Top Air Force officials said Monday that they supported the Obama administration’s decision to buy only four more of the advanced F-22 fighter jets, making it less likely that Congress will insist on extending its production.

The Air Force had previously said it needed 60 more of the planes, a position that had built expectations for a fierce battle in Congress over the program’s future.

Legislators from Georgia, Connecticut and other states with major suppliers are still likely to push for more planes. But it will be much harder for them to succeed if the Air Force is not quietly supporting their efforts, military analysts said.

Several industry officials and former Air Force officers said they would not be surprised to see Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor on the plane, pull back from a lobbying campaign emphasizing how many jobs would be lost if production was halted.

Michael Donley and Norton Schwartz, the secretary and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, even penned an op-ed in the WaPo arguing to move forward from the F-22.

I confess that I assumed this fight would be much more protracted. And it may still be - I wouldn't put it past defense-state lawmakers to insist on building what even the Air Force doesn't want. But let's again read between the lines here. The next paragraph after the ones I cited in the Times article are:

Under the administration’s plan, the Pentagon would speed up the testing of another Lockheed Martin fighter, the F-35, which it plans to buy in much greater quantities. Industry officials said the company might not want to risk angering the new administration as it already had many other lucrative defense contracts.

In other words, we're talking about moving from one Lockheed assembly line to another. Don't take my word for it, look at Donley and Schwartz' op-ed:

Much rides on the F-35's success, and it is critical to keep the Joint Strike Fighter on schedule and on cost. This is the time to make the transition from F-22 to F-35 production. Within the next few years, we will begin work on the sixth-generation capabilities necessary for future air dominance.

In other words, let's just switch assembly lines and keep the contractor money flowing.

Gates' budget isn't necessarily bad, and I was heartened by President Obama's statement in his economic speech today that it was a good start but "we can do more." But the outpourings of praise just seem to me misplaced. Ultimately, Gates is protecting the bloated military budget.

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