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

Thursday, July 16, 2009

F-22 Intrigue

The debate in the Senate over additional funding for the F-22 (even if this funding is cut, we'll have 187 of the fighters available) took a turn last night.

Senator Levin for some reason withdraws his amendment to strike funding for the F-22 fighter that the President wants discontinued and over which he threatens a veto of the bill. And hate crimes legislation finally finds a legislative vehicle to be attached to. Only it's... the bill the President threatens to veto if the F-22 money isn't struck. That ain't gonna go over well, if anyone's looking. I don't know if there's any other effort underway besides Levin's to strike that F-22 funding. We'll see. Meanwhile, Senator Reid has done what needs doing to clear the decks for a vote on the hate crimes amendment. He's filled the amendment tree and filed for cloture [...]

I'd hate to see them stay until one in the morning on Friday to get this done, only to attach it to a doomed bill. But maybe it's not so doomed if this is attached. Maybe that's the thinking. To trade the president the hate crimes salve he promised the LGBT community after the DOMA brief fiasco in exchange for his letting the F-22 authorization escape the veto. Slick!

The White House appears serious enough about removing the additional F-22 funding that I suspect the amendment will return in some form, if not in conference committee. Peter Orszag also objects to $438.9 million in funding for a new engine for the Joint Strike Fighter, which has a perfectly good engine already. And the F-22 funding is being assailed in print media, both in this NYT op-ed:

The plane, the most expensive jet fighter ever built, was designed for cold war aerial combat. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has repeatedly argued that the Pentagon needs to phase out such high-cost, outdated programs so it can buy the kinds of weapons that American troops desperately need to complete their mission in Iraq and defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

The F-22 has not been used in either war. Buying more would only make it harder for the Air Force to shift money into aircraft like unmanned intelligence drones and the more adaptable, cheaper-to-fly F-35 fighter, which is set to begin production in 2012 [...]

Providing for America’s real defense needs is expensive enough without making the military budget double as a make-work jobs program. Capping the F-22 program at 187, as the Pentagon wants, would keep production lines intact for years to come, well beyond the immediate need for stimulus-related job creation.

Not to mention this reported piece in WaPo (h/t Hilzoy why the hell are you leaving blogging!!!), detailing all the failures of the F-22 as a vehicle:

"The United States' top fighter jet, the Lockheed Martin F-22, has recently required more than 30 hours of maintenance for every hour in the skies, pushing its hourly cost of flying to more than $44,000, a far higher figure than for the warplane it replaces, confidential Pentagon test results show. (...)

"It is a disgrace that you can fly a plane [an average of] only 1.7 hours before it gets a critical failure" that jeopardizes success of the aircraft's mission, said a Defense Department critic of the plane who is not authorized to speak on the record. Other skeptics inside the Pentagon note that the planes, designed 30 years ago to combat a Cold War adversary, have cost an average of $350 million apiece and say they are not a priority in the age of small wars and terrorist threats.

The plane is literally "vulnerable to rain." And we spend $1.7 billion a piece for them.

So I think the F-22 funding will come out, by hook or by crook. But here's the really interesting part of the defense bill:

The Obama administration has objected to a provision in the 2010 defense funding bill currently before the Senate that would bar the military's use of contractors to interrogate detainees.

The provision, strongly backed by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), describes interrogations as an "inherently governmental function" that "cannot be transferred to contractor personnel." It would give the Defense Department one year from the bill's enactment to ensure that the military had the resources to comply with it.

A White House policy statement yesterday signaled "many areas of agreement" with the bill that emerged from Levin's committee late last month but said the administration has "serious concerns" about some provisions. The statement repeated Obama's threat to veto the $680 billion bill unless $1.75 billion to fund an additional seven F-22 fighter aircraft is removed.

The more that we privatize interrogation, the more likelihood that those less accountable contractors sully America through torture. We can absolutely meet the needs of intelligence gathering without using CACI or other contractors, and it's sad to see the Obama Administration fight this provision.

Basically, there's a whole lot tied up in this bill at the moment. I could see nothing passing and defense funded under last year's agreement. Which would be a net loss and a missed opportunity at reform, not to mention a loss for the hate crimes bill.

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