Lightning always looks for the shortest route to the ground, and the Pentagon’s newest boondoggle, the F-35 II Lightning, is a perfect example of that. Just days before it was slated to make its international debut at a United Kingdom airshow, the next-gen fighter found itself grounded, almost as fast as the natural phenomena for which it’s named.
For the price we paid for the F-35 II Ostrich, a flightless bird if there ever was one, we could’ve bought every homeless person in the country a mansion.
While it’s hard to argue against the modernization of aircraft to defend the country and counter enemies overseas, the Lightning has been a disaster from the start. The total operating and maintenance for an F-35 fleet will cost little over $1 trillion dollars. And that’s to say nothing of the price we paid getting it to the showroom floor. According to Think Progress:
But the Joint Strike Fighter program has been a mess almost since its inception, with massive cost overruns leading to its current acquisition price-tag of $398.6 billion — an increase of $7.4 billion since last year. That breaks down to costing about $49 billion per year since work began in 2006 and the project is seven years behind schedule. Over its life-cycle, estimated at about 55 years, operating and maintaining the F-35 fleet will cost the U.S. a little over $1 trillion.
For comparison, the entire Manhattan Project came with a price tag, in today’s money, of about $55 billion. That’s right; this disaster cost us more to make and field than the program that gave us the nuclear bomb.
Winslow Wheeler, a former congressional staffer and outspoken critic of the jet, told Foreign Policy recently that, “The political armor of the F-35 is as thick as the heads of the people who designed the airplane and its acquisition plan.” ThinkProgress reports that the support in Congress for the fighter is so great that there’s a bipartisan Joint Strike Fighter Caucus dedicated to promoting the craft and keeping it alive.
So, with this in mind, what else could Uncle Sam have accomplished with trillion-some dollars that went into the F-35 II Glowbug?
We could’ve Bought Every Homeless Person In This Country A Mansion
The Department of Health and Human Services reports that on any given night, there are an estimated 600,000 homeless Americans living on the street, and numerous studies have shown that rather than putting money into temporary shelters or incarcerations, communities have saved millions of dollars by investing in permanent housing for the homeless. ThinkProgress reports that, despite the variable real estate prices, it’s possible that $7.4 billion would’ve been more than enough to start a program like this, nationwide. With the full amount spent on the F-35 II Blown Bulb, the U.S. could have likely foot the bill to purchase every homeless person in the country a $664,000 home.
Unilaterally Fund Every Humanitarian Crisis
Contrary to what your friends on Facebook might seem to think, the United States spends less than 1% of the total budget on foreign assistance, which amounts to about $31.1 billion in foreign aid and funding, according to ForeignAssistance.gov. With the price we taxpayers footed for the F-35 II Emu, we would’ve been able to fund aid for every humanitarian crisis and save countless lives.
Millions of refugees and internally displaced people in these conflicts are struggling to survive, as the United Nations reports that each of these emergencies remain chronically underfunded. This year alone, the U.N. Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) has raised only 35 percent of the funds it needs. In contrast, the $49 billion per year spent on the F-35 would singlehandedly fund not just UNOCHA’s $16.7 billion request, but also those of UNICEF and other emergency disaster relief bodies, saving countless lives.
In addition, U.N. officials want the situation at the U.S.’ southern border to be classified as a refugee crisis as well, as most of the thousands of children currently being detained fled their homes to escape a myriad number of life-threatening conditions. The Obama administration has requested $3.7 billion from Congress in emergency spending to help staunch the flow and provide for those who have already made it to the United States, but Republicans already appear to be lining up against the proposal. The F-35′s increased cost from last year alone would have easily covered that amount and then some.
We Could Feed Every School Child In The Country
The excess cost of the F-35 II Great Auk could have easily covered all the losses to SNAP caused by the recent Republican farm bill. It could also have paid for the National School Lunch Program, which feeds approximately 31 million students, for the next two decades:
As a backup when food subsidies are cut, low-income families often find themselves turning towards schools to provide meals during the day for their children. The National School Lunch Program feeds approximately 31 million students every year, at the cost of about $16.3 billion in both cash and commodity payments. The full cost of the plane so far would have funded this program as it stands for 24 years. If the amount being dispersed to schools was doubled, allowing the program to reach all 55 million students enrolled in K-12, the F-35 still would be able to cover that for the next decade.
Providing Security Around The World
With the weighted system used to determine dues, the U.S. pays the lion’s share of funding for the UN’s 16 peacekeeping missions around the world. With the amount the United States has spent on the F-35 II Nanojoule, the United States could’ve funded peacekeeping around the globe for the next 46 years:
For the coming fiscal year, that works out to about $2.4 billion. That’s quite a bargain, as then-U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice argued in 2009, telling PBS: “If the US was to act on its own – unilaterally – and deploy its own forces in many of these countries; for every dollar that the US would spend, the UN can accomplish the Mission for twelve cents.” Given how cost effective blue helmets are at providing security in areas where conflict has just ended, it would behoove the U.S. to grant even more support to the system. Additional funds would provide better arms and equipment, as well as better training, as the number of peacekeepers required around the world increases. The amount the U.S. has spent on the F-35 could have funded this year’s level of peacekeeping — a record-high $8.6 billion — for the next 46 years.
Rebuilding the Country
That our country is crumbling is a mystery to nobody that has to deal with the decaying infrastructure on a regular basis. A lack of funding is causing our decades old infrastructure to crumble and collapse, with 63,000 bridges labeled as “structurally deficient.” With the money spent on the F-35 II Air Sprite, we could’ve rebuild the country:
The Department of Transportation’s total budget request for next year is $90.1 billion, part of a four-year budget of $302.1 billion with $199 billion set aside to rebuild America’s roads and bridges. Obama has for the last two years called for a $50 billion lump sum to be added to the on top of DOT’s budget to help address the growing need, and twice Congress has rejected this proposal. If the U.S. were to have channeled the $298 billion is has spent so far on the F-35 — and continued spending at that level for the next six years — the U.S. would be halfway towards closing the $1.1 trillion gap in investment needed in infrastructure, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. In addition, a report from the Center for American Progress, citing Moody’s Analytic’s chief economist, estimates infrastructure investment generates $1.44 of economic activity for each $1 spent. That sort of claim can’t be duplicated in the spending on the F-35.
Seven other countries have helped to foot the bill for the F-35 II ignis fatuus, helping to diffuse the cost. However, these partners are rightly becoming increasingly wary of the aircraft’s ballooning price tag, and several of the countries announced that they’ll be scaling back on the purchase. Meanwhile, the British Air force was planning on having the fighter two years ago.
Way to have priorities, Congress. Homing the homeless, rebuilding the country, world peace, and feeding hungry school children? How exactly is any of that supposed to make the CEO of Lockheed Martin any money, huh?