America Spent $1.5 Trillion On A Jet That Doesn't Work. How Many Schools Is That, Do You Think?

A phenomenally expensive jet that hasn't seen combat? American tax dollars being spent? Sounds about right.

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Winslow Wheeler: The F35 is the jet that ate the Pentagon. It's devouring the budget, and it's devouring the Pentagon's air-capability.

Lawrence Korb: What it looks like, now, is we're probably gonna spend twice as much as we thought on the system. You're talking about one and a half trillion dollars.

William Hartung: One and a half trillion dollars, for a plane that, so far, has not worked. At a time when they're cutting the budget for cops and teachers.

Ben Freeman: It's extraordinary, phenomenally expensive, and it's never been in combat.

The airplane is so complex, and horrendously designed, that we'll be lucky if we can fly it every other day. It won't be ready for combat, on the current schedule, until about 2019, almost 10 years late.

The biggest beneficiary of the F35 is Lockheed Martin.

War profiteering is a very easy source of money if you don't worry about what's right and wrong.

William Hartung: Lockheed Martin getting 36 billion dollars a year of our tax money, and much of that rolls over into profit.

Melanie Sloan: These people are being paid with our tax dollars, because most of the money that these defense contractors bring in are tax payer dollars, through government contracts.

William Hartung: I think a lot of what the contractors do is basically legalized greed. The F35 was sold as, sort of, this great bargain for the country.

Tom Burbage: The whole purpose behind F35 was to develop a family and lower the total cost.

Lawrence Korb: The idea was we could make the unit cost of this very inexpensive if we got all the services. The Air Force, the Navy, and the Marine Corps, to buy a version of the F35.

Robert Stevens We're very focused on giving the tax payer and the Department of Defense very good value for a dollar that is spent.

William Hartung: But, it's just this Rube Goldberg contraption.

We've got all these complex things that you're trying to do, building around the same airframe.

It tries to do all sorts of things, none of them well.

William Hartung: So, there was this whole series of things that it could not do. So, in that sense, it was probably the worst possible choice, in terms of an affordable aircraft. But, it's great for Lockheed Martin, because they're gonna have cost over-runs. Because they're not ready. They don't work yet, and they're gonna fix the things later, at our expense. But they're already billing them in the hundreds.

Right from the start, Lockheed had a terrible program plan, to make sure that the money flow would never get interrupted, and that was the idea of concurrent development.

Concurrency is a wonkish term for buying the airplane as you're developing it, and purchasing what you think are going to be combat-ready models, before you finish the testing. And, by the time you've tested the airplane and realized it's a disaster, you've already bought a huge number of them. You're committed. As we say in the Pentagon, you've gotten pregnant. Right? And that's the whole purpose of concurrent development, is to get the public, the tax-payer, the Congress, everybody committed to this flow of money, before you know anything about whether the money is going for anything worthwhile.

Melanie Sloan: Lockheed Martin is the number one defense contractor in terms of spending. Since 1989, Lockheed Martin has made more than 21 million dollars in campaign contributions to Congress.

So, Buck McKeon, for example, who heads the Armed Services Committee in the House, gets 3/4 of a million dollars for his campaigns, just since 2009.

And then, for the defense industry, the life-blood on Capitol Hill, is lobbying.

Melanie Sloan: When big defense contractors pay lobbyists in Washington, it's actually some of the best money they spend. The return on their investment tends to be huge.

They have a thousand lobbyists, or more. About two for every member of Congress.

The amount of money that's gone in to making sure that this plane kept flying, that the development kept going, there's been so much spent on this, in terms of convincing Congress-- and convincing the American public, too-- that this is a wonderful plane.

William Hartung: And, of course, they're funding, too, about one out of every ten members of Congress, as part of the Joint Strike Fighter Caucus. Members who've got, maybe part of an engine built here, tire is built there, and they get behind it, because, they can say, "You know, it's jobs for my district."

The defense manufacturers are selling, big time, the jobs they say they're creating. What we've found there, was that the numbers were grotesquely inflated. In other words, they don't just count line workers riveting wings at the Fort Worth plant. They also count the McDonald's off the plant, because somebody, going home, is gonna buy a Big Mac. And that, of course, is a job generated by the F35, they claim. That's an effort to get the hook in with members of Congress, to intimidate them, that if they side against the airplane, there's gonna be X-number of jobs lost.

They'd say, "Oh, my goodness this is gonna cost a million jobs." Never mind whether it works or not, you know? We gotta keep building, because we gotta keep people working.

But, the defense budget is a lousy engine for jobs.

You take any dollar of government spending: education, health, or just tax cuts. You get more bang for the buck, than you do in defense.

A billion dollars, it's about 11,000 jobs, if you put it into the military. Transportation generates about 17,000 jobs. About 19,000 if you put it into healthcare. Even more, if you put it into education. Putting all that spending back into the private economy generates more jobs than are generated by military spending.

Contractors are all interested in making sure that their programs have smooth sailing through the Pentagon and through Congress, and a key mechanism to make sure that happens is the revolving door.

Joe Cirincione: People who are in positions of power in the Pentagon can leave their government jobs, where they've been in positions of approving contracts, and after a short cooling-off period, can then go to work for the very companies whose contracts they approved.

So, what this revolving door system does is make sure the F35 program survives, no matter how screwed up it is.

The F35, touted as a tremendous boon to American air-power, in fact, is a terrible weakening of the American air-power. Every extra F35 we buy means American air-power has gone down-hill. First of all, because every one we buy will be essentially useless in combat, and a danger to the pilot. Secondly, because of the huge expense.

There's huge overhead. They're not adequately audited.

We don't know where all that money is going, because the program hasn't had that kind of audit. It desperately needs that kind of audit.

William Hartung: You know, if you and I can't pass an audit, we're in trouble. The Pentagon can't pass through an audit, we throw them another 700 billion dollars, as if nothing's happened.

Most important thing people can do about it is to demand the truth. To write to their Congressman about the horrible waste of money. To vote against Congressmen who vote for it, and to demand that the media come up with the truth. Cutting defense is the only way to reform this monster.

William Hartung: People are going to start to understand, if you look carefully at what the Pentagon and the contractors are doing, much of this is not defending us. It's just defending their bottom lines. It's not defending the country.

There may be small errors in this transcript.

This video was created by F-35 Bad Deal and Brave New Films. See more videos on the Brave New Films YouTube page.

Mar 11, 2014

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