How Not to Audit the Pentagon: The Military Waste Machine Is Running Full Speed Ahead

Yves here. Tom Engelhardt, in his introduction to this piece at TomDispatch, underscores how the US has allowed virtually no expenditure by the Pentagon be challenged, no matter how dubious it is (let’s start with the F-35) while American bridges and roads are in disrepair. Despite having a fiat currency and the reserve currency to boot, the excuse in DC for “all guns, no butter,” is that we somehow can’t afford it. Funny how we always have the money for the next bombing run in Iraq.

Not only is the US overspending on its military, we are managing to break the cardinal rule of being self-sufficient. US defense contractors are permitted to use foreign-sourced chips, which means from China. We even buy military uniforms and boots from China.

While this article points out how the effort to audit the Pentagon failed, it doesn’t flag the magnitude of the problem. This admittedly dated clip will give you an idea of the size of the Pentagon budgetary dark matter:

By William D. Hartung, the author, among other books, of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex. Originally published at TomDispatch

From spending $150 million on private villas for a handful of personnel in Afghanistan to blowing $2.7 billion on an air surveillance balloon that doesn’t work, the latest revelations of waste at the Pentagon are just the most recent howlers in a long line of similar stories stretching back at least five decades.  Other hot-off-the-presses examples would include the Army’s purchase of helicopter gears worth $500 each for $8,000 each and the accumulation of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons components that will never be used. And then there’s the one that would have to be everyone’s favorite Pentagon waste story: the spending of $50,000 to investigate the bomb-detecting capabilities of African elephants. (And here’s a shock: they didn’t turn out to be that great!) The elephant research, of course, represents chump change in the Pentagon’s wastage sweepstakes and in the context of its $600-billion-plus budget, but think of it as indicative of the absurd lengths the Department of Defense will go to when what’s at stake is throwing away taxpayer dollars.

Keep in mind that the above examples are just the tip of the tip of a titanic iceberg of military waste.  In a recent report I did for the Center for International Policy, I identified 27 recent examples of such wasteful spending totaling over $33 billion.  And that was no more than a sampling of everyday life in the twenty-first-century world of the Pentagon.

The staggering persistence and profusion of such cases suggests that it’s time to rethink what exactly they represent.  Far from being aberrations in need of correction to make the Pentagon run more efficiently, wasting vast sums of taxpayer dollars should be seen as a way of life for the Department of Defense.  And with that in mind, let’s take a little tour through the highlights of Pentagon waste from the 1960s to the present.

How Many States Can You Lose Jobs In?

The first person to bring widespread public attention to the size and scope of the problem of Pentagon waste was Ernest Fitzgerald, an Air Force deputy for management systems.  In the late 1960s, he battled that service to bring to light massive cost overruns on Lockheed’s C-5A transport plane.  He risked his job, and was ultimately fired, for uncovering $2 billion in excess expenditures on a plane that was supposed to make the rapid deployment of large quantities of military equipment to Vietnam and other distant conflicts a reality.

The cost increase on the C-5A was twice the price Lockheed had initially promised, and at the time one of the largest cost overruns ever exposed.  It was also an episode of special interest then, because Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had been pledging to bring the efficient business methods he had learned as Ford Motors’ president to bear on the Pentagon’s budgeting process.

No such luck, as it turned out, but Fitzgerald’s revelations did, at least, spark a decade of media and congressional scrutiny of the business practices of the weapons industry.  The C-5A fiasco, combined with Lockheed’s financial troubles with its L-1011 airliner project, led the company to approach Congress, hat in hand, for a $250 million government bailout.  Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire, who had helped bring attention to the C-5A overruns, vigorously opposed the measure, and came within one vote of defeating it in the Senate.

In a time-tested lobbying technique that has been used by weapons makers ever since, Lockheed claimed that denying it loan guarantees would cost 34,000 jobs in 35 states, while undermining the Pentagon’s ability to prepare for the next war, whatever it might be.  The tactic worked like a charm.  Montana Senator Lee Metcalf, who cast the deciding vote in favor of the bailout, said, “I’m not going to be the one to put those thousands of people out of work.”  An analysis by the New York Times found that every senator with a Lockheed-related plant in his or her state voted for the deal.

By rewarding Lockheed Martin for its wasteful practices, Congress set a precedent that has never been superseded.  A present-day case in point is — speak of the devil — Lockheed Martin’s F-35 combat aircraft.  At $1.4 trillion in procurement and operating costs over its lifetime, it will be the most expensive weapons program ever undertaken by the Pentagon (or anyone else on Planet Earth), and the warning signs are already in: tens of billions of dollars in projected cost overruns and myriad performance problems before the F-35 is even out of its testing phase.  Now the Pentagon wants to rush the plane into production by making a “block buy” of more than 400 planes that will involve little or no accountability regarding the quality and cost of the final product.

Predictably, almost five decades after the C-5A contretemps, Lockheed Martin has deployed an inflationary version of the jobs argument in defense of the F-35, making the wildly exaggerated claim that the plane will produce 125,000 jobs in 46 states.  The company has even created a handy interactive map to show how many jobs the program will allegedly create state by state.  Never mind the fact that weapons spending is the least efficient way to create jobs, lagging far behind investment in housing, education, or infrastructure. 

The Classic $640 Toilet Seat

Despite the tens of billions being wasted on a project like the F-35, the examples that tend to draw the most attention from the media and the most outrage among taxpayers involve overspending on routine items.  This may be because the average person doesn’t have a sense of what a fighter plane should cost, but can more easily grasp that spending $640 for a toilet seat or $7,600 for a coffee pot is outrageous.  These kinds of examples — first exposed through work done in the 1980s by Dina Rasor of the Project on Military Procurement — undermined the position taken by President Ronald Reagan’s administration that not a penny could be cut from its then-record peacetime Pentagon budgets.

The media ate such stories up. Pentagon overpayments for everyday items generated hundreds of articles in newspapers and magazines, including front-page coverage in the Washington Post.  Two whistleblowers were even interviewed on the Today Show, and Johnny Carson joked about such scandals in his introductory monologues on the Tonight Show.  Perhaps the most memorable depiction of the problem was a cartoon by the Washington Post’s Herblock that showed Reagan Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger wearing a $640 toilet seat around his neck.  This outburst of truth-telling, whistleblowing, investigative journalism, and mockery helped put a cap on the Reagan military buildup, but — you won’t be surprised to learn — didn’t keep the Pentagon from finding ever more innovative ways to misspend tax dollars.

The most outrageous spending choice of the 1990s was undoubtedly the Clinton administration’s decision to subsidize the mergers of major defense firms.  As Lockheed (yet again!) and Martin Marietta merged, Northrop teamed with Grumman, and Boeing bought McDonnell Douglas, the Pentagon provided funding to pay for everything from closing down factories to subsidizing golden parachutes for displaced executives and board members.  At the time, Vermont Congressman Bernie Sanders aptly dubbed the process “payoffs for layoffs,” as executives of defense firms received healthy payouts while laid-off workers were largely left to fend for themselves.

The Pentagon’s rationale for giving hundreds of millions of dollars to these emerging defense behemoths was laughable. The claim — absurd on the face of it — was that the new, larger companies would provide the Pentagon with lower prices once they had eliminated unnecessary overhead. Former Pentagon official Lawrence Korb, who opposed the subsidies at the time, noted the obvious: there was no evidence that weapons programs grew any cheaper, cost overruns any less, or wastage any smaller thanks to government subsidized mergers. As in fact became clear in the world of the weapons giants that followed, the increased bargaining power of companies like Lockheed Martin in a significantly less competitive market undoubtedly resulted in higher weapons costs.

It Took $6 Billion Not to Audit the Pentagon

The poster child for waste in the first decade of the twenty-first century was certainly the billions of dollars a privatizing Pentagon handed out to up-armored companies like Halliburton that accompanied the U.S. military into its war zones and engaged in Pentagon-funded base-building and “reconstruction” (aka “nation building”) projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) alone seems to come out with new examples of waste, fraud, and abuse on practically a weekly basisAmong Afghan projects that stood out over the years was a multimillion-dollar “highway to nowhere,” a $43 million gas station in nowhere, a $25 million “state of the art” headquarters for the U.S. military in Helmand Province, with all the usual cost overruns, that no one ever used, and the payment of actual salaries to countless thousands of no ones aptly labeled “ghost soldiers.” And that’s just to begin enumerating a long, long list. Last year, Pro Publica created an invaluable interactive graphic detailing $17 billion in wasteful spending uncovered by SIGAR, complete with information on what that money could have purchased if it had been used productively.

One reason the Pentagon has been able to get away with all this is that it has proven strangely incapable of doing a simple audit of itself, despite a Congressionally mandated requirement dating back to 1990 that it do so. Conveniently enough, this means that the Department of Defense can’t tell us how much equipment it has purchased, or how often it has been overcharged, or even how many contractors it employs. This may be spectacularly bad bookkeeping, but it’s great for defense firms, which profit all the more in an environment of minimal accountability. Call it irony or call it symptomatic of a successful way of life, but a recent analysis by the Project on Government Oversight notes that the Pentagon has so far spent roughly $6 billion on “fixing” the audit problem — with no solution in sight.

If anything, in recent years the Pentagon’s accounting practices have been getting worse.  Among the many offenses to any reasonable accounting sensibility, perhaps the most striking has been the way the war budget — known in Pentagonese as the Overseas Contingency Operations account — has been used as a slush fund to pay for tens of billions of dollars of items that have nothing to do with fighting wars. This evasive maneuver has been used to get around the caps that were placed on the Pentagon’s regular budget by Congress in the Budget Control Act of 2011.

If the Pentagon has its way, nuclear weapons will get their very own slush fund as well. For years, the submarine lobby floated the idea of a separate Sea-Based Deterrence Fund (outside of the Navy’s regular shipbuilding budget) to pay for ballistic missile-firing submarines. Congress has signed off on this idea, and now there are calls for a nuclear deterrent fund that would give special budgetary treatment to bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles as well. If implemented, this change would throw the minimalist budget discipline that now exists at the Pentagon decisively out the nearest window and increase pressures to raise the department’s overall budget, which already exceeds the levels reached during the Reagan buildup.

Why has waste at the Pentagon been so hard to rein in?  The answer is, in a sense, not complicated: the military-industrial complex profits from waste.  Closer scrutiny of waste could mean not just cheaper spare parts, but serious questions about whether cash cows like the F-35 are needed at all.  An accurate head count of the hundreds of thousands of private contractors employed by the Pentagon would reveal that a large proportion of them are doing work that is either duplicative or unnecessary. In other words, an effective audit of the Pentagon or any form of serious oversight of its wasteful way of life would pose a financial threat to a sector that is doing just fine under current arrangements.

Who knows? If the Department of Defense’s wasteful ways were ever brought under genuine scrutiny and control, people might start to question, for example, whether a country that already has the capability to destroy the world many times over needs to spend $1 trillion over the next three decades on a new generation of ballistic missiles, bombers, and nuclear-armed submarines. None of this would be good news for the contractors or for their allies in the Pentagon and Congress.

Undoubtedly, from time to time, you’ll continue to hear outrageous media stories about waste at the Pentagon and bomb-detecting elephants gone astray. Without a concerted campaign of public pressure of a sort we haven’t seen in recent years, however, the Pentagon’s runaway budget will never be reined in, that audit will never happen, and the weapons makers will whistle a happy tune on their way to the bank with our cash.

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  1. kimyo

    the f-35 is the penultimate piece of vaporware, commissioned by children who think iron man and the transformers are real. if sanders cannot deduce this, how could we possibly conclude that handing him the keys to the white house is a good idea?

    Bernie Sanders Doubles Down on F-35 Support Days After Runway Explosion

    So, while Bernie Sanders is saying we should cut military spending to fund free college for everyone, his defense of the F-35 means that despite everything else, Sanders is still just a politician. Sooner or later, the F-35 will eventually be replaced by something even more expensive, while the F-35 joins the thousands of other unused fighter jets in the boneyard. But rather than lying to people and saying the program is already a done deal and that there’s nothing he can do, Sanders could stand by his principles and introduce an amendment in the next National Defense Authorization Act to strip the F-35 program of its funding. That remaining $700 billion could make college tuition-free for everyone for at least a decade.

    Dodgy software will bork America’s F-35 fighters until at least 2019

    $1,000,000,000,000 fleet offers literal Blue Screen of Death

    The F-35 multirole fighter won’t be close to ready before 2019, the US House Armed Services Committee was told on Wednesday.

    The aircraft, which is supposed to reinvigorate the American military’s air power, is suffering numerous problems, largely down to flaws in the F-35’s operating system. These include straightforward code crashes, having to reboot the radar every four hours, and serious security holes in the code.

    Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation, reported that the latest F-35 operating system has 931 open, documented deficiencies, 158 of which are Category 1 – classified as those that could cause death, severe injury, or severe illness.

    He reported that around 60 per cent of aircraft used for testing were grounded due to software problems. He cited one four-aircraft exercise that had to be cancelled after two of the four aircraft aborted “due to avionics stability problems during startup.”

    In another exercise, conducted by the Marine Corps in May 2015, the exercise was delayed because file formatting problems meant target information couldn’t be uploaded to the aircraft. The US Air Force had similar problems, aborting a test after none of the aircraft could fly due to startup problems requiring software and hardware shutdowns and restarts.

    The F-35 is the first modern US military aircraft not to have a heads-up display. Instead, pilots will wear the display as part of their helmet, but the current level of software development means that the helmets can’t handle night vision, which leaves pilots at something of a disadvantage.

    1. Carolinian

      Should one point out that the only candidate who has talked about Pentagon overspending is Trump? No wonder the newspaper for Boston–home to many defense contractors–has gone full nuclear.

      Personally I think we will not see the reemergence of a true left in this country until they are willing to take on the MIC. Sanders’ complacency on the matter does not speak well for him. One could make a case that America’s entire current dysfunction traces back to the five sided building. We fight war’s for the benefit of the MIC and people go bankrupt with medical bills and highways crumble while we shovel money to our gold plated armed forces. Taking on this sacred cow won’t be easy. Which is perhaps why nobody is doing it.

      1. diptherio

        Defense and National Security are where Bernie and I part ways…I’m seriously conflicted about whether I should break my “no national voting” record for him or not. Given how much mileage he’s gotten out of his other “radical” views, I don’t see why he doesn’t go after the MIC hard, too. He’s got nothing to lose, electorally, at this point. I think if he came out hard against the Pentagon’s budget and admitted that he was wrong about the F-35 (and promised to have a job guarantee to catch anyone who gets laid off), he would peel away a bunch more of Hillary’s supporters. Not that democrats haven’t shown themselves more than willing to vote for war-mongers, but they usually hide behind the “lesser of two evils” rhetoric when doing it. Bernie needs to drop all the pretense and go hard populist, ASAP.

        1. polecat

          Maybe he’s being mum about the MIC until he lands the White House……..strategy of stealth….

          1. jsn

            I know Leslie Robertson, the structural engineer for the WTC buildings, so I’m pretty sure Paul Craig Roberts is wrong about that. Roberts is closer to his own expertise on his Kennedy claims however, and Bernie was around to watch that:

            The treasonous double dealing regarding Carter and the hostages is now in the open and not treated as the scandal it is. It is very dangerous to take on the MIC even when you’re the President. I can’t see how, until after a Political Revolution, it won’t be fatal on the path there.

      2. Carla

        Just saw the documentary “A Good American” about Bill Binney and ThinThread at the Cleveland Intnl Film Festival. Excellent.

        Hope it plays in regular theaters after it has made the film fest circuit, but I kinda doubt it will. Anyway, see it if you can.

      3. Vatch

        Should one point out that the only candidate who has talked about Pentagon overspending is Trump?

        Not entirely true. Sanders says this on his web site:

        And while there is no question our military must be fully prepared and have the resources it needs to fight international terrorism, it is imperative that we take a hard look at the Pentagon’s budget and the priorities it has established. The U.S. military must be equipped to fight today’s battles, not those of the last war, much less the Cold War. Our defense budget must represent our national security interests and the needs of our military, not the reelection of members of Congress or the profits of defense contractors. The warning that President Dwight David Eisenhower gave us about the influence of the Military-Industrial Complex in 1961 is truer today than it was then.

      4. James Levy

        To be more accurate, Trump talks about “waste” one day (as in “I’ll make a better deal”) then says that he’s going to “revitalize” the military which will be “the most powerful in the world” so as to “make America great again.” If you can show me where Trump says he will cut defense spending I would be most grateful to see it.

    2. Carla

      To whom would you rather hand the keys to the White House?

      Personally, I’m voting Green Party to help them maintain ballot access in Ohio, but I am curious as to who you might support in the presidential contest.

      1. kimyo

        voting in this and recent elections serves only to maintain the fiction of electoral representation.

        if i believed that all votes would be accurately counted then i’d support cynthia mckinney or gary johnson.

        however, this cycle has given us vote totals released before all have voted and delegates awarded via coin toss. and we know that in november, a dozen talented teenage hackers scattered around your state could easily have diebold produce any count they desire.

        Argonne researchers ‘hack’ Diebold e-voting system

        Breaking into system using a $10 electronic component was ‘ridiculously easy,’ says official at national research lab

    3. Steve Gunderson

      Its obvious to everyone but the fighter pilots and the Air Force brass that drone fighter/bombers are the future.

      1. JTMcPhee

        What, no flight and hazardous duty pay? No High-G Hijinks? None of this?

        “Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
        And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
        Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds –
        and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of –
        wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence.
        Hovering there I’ve chased the shouting wind along
        and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.

        “Up, up the long delirious burning blue
        I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
        where never lark, or even eagle, flew;
        and, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
        the high untrespassed sanctity of space,
        put out my hand and touched the face of God.”

    4. Bas

      from your link:

      Me: “You mentioned wasteful military spending. The other day … I’m sure you’ve heard about the F-35 catching fire on the runway. The estimated lifetime expense of the F-35 is $1.2 trillion. When you talk about cutting wasteful military spending, does that include the F-35 program?”

      Bernie Sanders: “No, and I’ll tell you why – it is essentially built. It is the airplane of the United States Air Force, Navy, and of NATO. It was a very controversial issue in Vermont. And my view was that given the fact that the F-35, which, by the way, has been incredibly wasteful, that’s a good question. But for better or worse, that is the plane of record right now, and it is not gonna be discarded. That’s the reality.”

      this is not Bernie advocating for military spending, it is saying how things are.

    5. Russell

      The deeper problem with the F 35 is a consistently failed Robert McNamara attempt to impose standardization when that does not work at the level it is put to.
      According to IHS Janes the Chinese built their F 35 from the original plans, cutting out the helmet and the VTOL jet for helicopter aircraft carrier take off and landings as is the case with the Harrier.
      The Chinese are flying their copy with good results and showing it off. Would we buy our design back built?
      Further the 4th Generation Fighters as weapons platforms are so infinitesimally challenged by 5th Gen weapons platforms that it is about useless to continue to do other than advance fire systems.
      The US could easily be fighting its jet made better as Migs were better than even the Sabre jet during the Korean War, and the F 104 wasn’t called Thud for nothing.
      Either other and all the way, Accounting as allowed to be done is criminal. Yves points to the Overseas Contingency Operations Account used as a Slush Fund to negate the intent of the Budget Control Act.
      The working people, honest rich people, and honest representatives find that the US military is their enemy, as is the rest of the government that taxes them and then squanders their money.
      It was the Joint Chiefs of Staff that had Richard Helms & James Angleton assassinate John F. Kennedy, who could not believe they would go that far.
      The CIA learned to operate flat out Fronts to get off book profits to work with. IN-Q-TEL shows up as a CIA Venture Capital Company. Goldman Sachs is the target of our ire, but the entire elite power system that determines our fate endangers us with greater drama than we need.

      1. James Levy

        The Sabre was every bit as good at the MiG-15 (you’re thinking the F-80 Shooting Star which was inferior) and the “Flying Thud” was the F-105 not the F-104 (the F-105 had been designed as a dash bomber for delivering tactical nukes and was not a fighter). Interoperability and standardization are a big problem, you are correct about that. It’s the F-111 problem all over again. But given R&D costs much shorter runs of several designs would probably cost at least as much as a much larger run on one aircraft, and you’d have the benefits of all your pilots knowing how to fly the same plane (ditto spare parts and maintenance crews). So it’s a bit more complicated than you make out. The Air Force needs a fighter and a strike aircraft, for sure. Theoretically the technology exists to make one plane that does both, but in practice it almost never works out that way.

    6. Crazy Horse

      Back in the day when I had a lot more hair on the top of my head I roomed in a college dormitory with a guy who had been a MinuteMan launch control officer in North Dakota. He loved to tell the story about the time they trucked a Minuteman out to Vandenburg and went over it with a fine tooth comb tuning it up for a show-and-tell launch for the Congressman. Didn’t work. Nor did the subsequent two attempts.

      I always slept a bit more securely after that.

      re the F35–If we wanted fighter aircraft that actually worked, we’d just buy them from the Russians.

      I think getting all upset about waste in the military industrial system is yet another example of the national state of delusion. Military hardware that doesn’t function is a positive contribution to the security of the USA and the World. If the targets of opportunity (AKA foreign nations) that the War Hawks need to attack to keep the replacement pipeline flowing are spared not only will fewer babies die a horrible death, but fewer will grow up to become our enemies.

      And where would we be without all the pork that extrudes from the orifices of the military-industrial complex? Having shipped the production of every “necessity” of modern life overseas– computers, I-phones, cars, clothing, household furniture, fresh tomatoes—-, the only viable industry we have left is the production of Weapons of Death.

  2. Russell

    Thanks Yves. It is true that Defense is the Number one responsibility of a legitimate government, no matter what system of governance the nation uses. Few of us can become experts since the culture encourages secrecy.
    I was investigating the Coast Guard because I wanted to know if in time of great “Revolution” what smart Command and Control other than the existing situation might be possible, since unrest in the US is as extreme as I have lived in, at 63.
    I was not allowed to comment on the Coast Guard website. How about that?
    The Coast Guard was originally all the Navy the US needed, and wanted. The US was admired as idealistic for not having up until 1899 imperialistic designs on the rest of the world neighbor nations.
    Would appear that the Coast Guard is a South American Drug War & Intelligence gathering institution, now no beacon of confidence in the back up plans for survival salvage & Institutional reordering.
    That may arise as needed…
    It is the expense and threat of nuclear weapons in the multipolar power balance that is going to be the end of us. Apocalyptic Riot is ensured if you too much push sanctions and all war all the time plus War By Threat.
    Sanctions lead to war.
    The little Iran deal and the deal for the Petrodollar are wobbling like the spinning top that cannot be spun up ever again.
    My little model nation could never get out of its own way with nukes which become useless most dramatically for my Napoleon siege circles all the time perimeter defenses of the affiliated airports.
    The commitment to elimination of the nuclear bombs from all arsenals puts one potentially at war with everyone.
    Finally I am at 2 UNs now. One for the Armed Forces of the UN, & one for the Organizations, or better would it be one for the Northern Hemisphere and one for the Southern Hemisphere?
    Mexico’s army is in fact a well designed army for the nation state wars of today, and also well designed for a Martial Law state.
    P.S. Second legitimate responsibility is Education. Risking the legitimacy of the currency with stupid expenditures is the threat financially that I see as dramatically at risk as well and what I think you are after.

  3. Fazal Majid

    You have it all wrong. The amount of money that will be spent on “defense” contractors has nothing to do with America’s security needs and everything to do with the relative strength of their lobby compared to the other pigs at the trough like the financial industry, healthcare, agribusiness and so on. These relative strengths change very slowly over time and thus the budget is essentially a constant. When it is ridden with waste and fraud, that reduces the fighting effectiveness of US armed forces, and thus the likelihood that working class US kids enlisted in the military will be sent to blow up poor brown kids elsewhere. Let us celebrate boondoggles like the F-35, too unreliable and delicate to be flown into combat: they are the best hope for peace in our time.

  4. cnchal

    . . . for example, whether a country that already has the capability to destroy the world many times over needs to spend $1 trillion over the next three decades on a new generation of ballistic missiles, bombers, and nuclear-armed submarines . . .

    Only $1 trillion. By the time it’s done, $5 to $10 trillion will be more like it.

    If we subtract that from GDP, what’s left?

  5. Ignacio

    This goes well beyond fraud for US taxpayers. Once you have the weapons, to keep the industry running, and to justify further spending, you have to use (waste) them in wars that you have to promote. The lobby has been successful in feeding the excuses needed to initiate attacks/wars in the name of democracy (years ago), state security, and more recently war against terror.

    The more powerful the weapon industry, the higher probability of running wars around the globe.

    1. Jim Haygood

      One of the perennial claims made on behalf of a “600-ship navy” (an old chestnut from the Reagan days) and a permanent U.S. presence in the Persian Gulf is the alleged benefit of “keeping the sea lanes open.”

      A Dartmouth professor named James Feyrer has analyzed the “keeping the sea lanes open” rationale and found it to be a crock:

      We can run the numbers for Britain and the Suez Canal closure. A 3.3 per cent increase in shipping distances should produce a 1.6 per cent reduction in trade, which is equivalent to 0.24 per cent (0.016 x 0.15) of GDP. The loss in GDP is 25 per cent of this, or around 0.06 per cent of GDP. The corresponding number for France would be about 0.03 per cent.

      Is this a lot or a little? An obvious basis of comparison is defence expenditure, which is typically around 2 per cent of GDP, and is commonly thought of as being equally divided between armies, navies and air forces. On that basis, naval expenditure amounts to about 0.6 per cent of GDP, ten times the cost to Britain of the blocking of the Suez Canal.

      Facts mean nothing, when mil spending is authorized by a rubber-stamp parliament of 535 Depublicrat KongressKlowns.

      1. Darthbobber

        Feyer’s analysis really stands or falls on his assertion that anything like the Battle of the Atlantic or for that matter the war in the Pacific can be absolutely ruled out in a nuclear environment.

        If such possibilities cannot be ruled out, then this is not a purely economic calculation, and the traditional goal of using the oceans yourself while denying them to the enemy remains in play. Napoleon, the Germans in the first World War and the Japanese in the second came to grief over this.

        And even if an outcome is thought to be highly unlikely, this does not militate at all against the planners assuming it as a possibility. Assuming worst-case scenarios is what they do.

        And he doesn’t seem to deal at all with the role of this sort of thing in pushing smaller nations around in conditions NOT likely to cause a major power to escalate.

  6. David

    I’d be the last person to defend the bloated defence budget of the US, but there are perhaps a couple of reality check points to be made here.
    Military equipment always costs more and takes longer to develop than you expect. This is an iron rule. Equipment these days can easily take a decade to develop, and then have a service life of thirty or forty years. Many of the UK pilots flying Tornados in Syria/Iraq today were not even born when the aircraft first flew in the 1970s. Judgements have to be made about what the world will be like a generation hence, and you had better be right. Manufacturers have no incentive to be honest about prices and are in turn dependent on hundreds of sub-contractors in dozens of different countries.
    Imagine that you went down to a car dealer and said, “I want a car in ten years time, using technologies still under development, made partly of materials never used before and with better fuel consumption, better safety and the most advanced electronics in the world; Oh, and I want a version for my spouse for use on short distance urban runs, and another for my brother in the countryside to transport agricultural products. How much and when?”

    1. washunate

      Maybe we would be better off living in a world with alternatives to cars rather than a world where we demand that cars do everything?

      1. polecat

        ….I”m getting to the point where I’d settle for an alternate world…..

        which way to Pandora……

        the earth is full of too many ‘scouns’ !!

        1. polecat

          “Everything that flies, slinks, or crawls in the mud….wants to kill you and eat your eyes for jujubies…….Your not in Kansas anymore…………Your In the Pentagram !!”

    2. Steve Gunderson

      The idea behind building the JSF was a huge blunder back in the early 90’s. Three different variants for three different missions from a single airframe. It didn’t work for the F-111 back in the 1960’s, and it isn’t working for the F-35 today.

      1. optimader

        The idea behind building the JSF was a huge blunder back in the early 90’s.
        And has only gotten worse. That is probably the most fair high level assessment. New projects teeth of course but thefundmental design is a fail
        Lind has written on the subject ad nauseam, and I mean nauseam. Its a functionally doomed program that will eat steam shovels full of wealth over its program cycle. A case study for congressional district corporate welfare and Pentagon career feathering. It’s a bad design imagineered for too many mutually exclusive roles with no competent third party oversight empowered to perform a reality check

        A classic example of MIC’s burger meat served for the price of tenderloin.

        1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

          To classify these as “blunders’ is wrong, the calculus starts with “how much can we extract from taxpayers to fund “our corporation/the jobs in my electorate”.
          From there it’s a quick trip down to the Marriner Eccles building to request unlimited debt-backed scrip to pay for it all. If the debt burden exceeds the available income required to service it, just push interest rates to zero and keep them there.
          To imagine this has anything whatsoever to do with the stated missions of the military or the tools required to fulfill those missions is just delusional, they define those missions at will to fit the procurement manna they are seeking, “Freedom of Navigation” or “Duty to Protect” or “Total Information Dominance” or “The War on Terra” or “The War on Some Drugs”.
          The fly in the ointment is that you eventually suck the host dry.

    3. jsn

      The P51 was developed in a year during a war. If we survive that long in the next one, that’s when we’ll start to get cutting edge fighting equipment that is designed to actually fight rather than the cutting edge millionaire minting “combat systems” we now purchase.

      Between all the leaks , and drone technology , it’s not clear we are not already in an all out information war already, a deep maneuver in prelude to… what?

    4. Darthbobber

      But this reverses the actual process in practice. It is generally the contractors who push the plethora of features, often over the objections of military folk who originally don’t want them. Remember the Reaganoid star wars push? That was sold directly to politicians. By the people pushing products. So your metaphor would be more accurately phrased as :”Imagine that a car dealer came to you and said, “I’ll give you a car in ten years time, using technologies still under development, made partly of materials never used before and with better fuel consumption, better safety and the most advanced electronics in the world; Oh, and I’ll throw in a version for your spouse for use on short distance urban runs, and another for your brother in the countryside to transport agricultural products. And I insist I know enough about the costs at this point to tell you they’ll be this much.”
      Well, the only way you could pretend to believe them would be by pretending to be a gullible idiot.

    5. fajensen

      Military equipment always costs more and takes longer to develop than you expect. This is an iron rule. Equipment these days can easily take a decade to develop,
      “Always” … because it is allowed to happen and there is no actual threat. Not now, not in any reasonable future. What the world will be like in a generation’s time is just speculation (of course it’s necessary to keep *some* research, design and production facilities around for the insurance – but – not the obscene bloat we have now).

      When Herr Schicklgruber had ambitions and everybody was properly motivated – aircraft, tanks, drones and rockets even could come on-line in less than one-two years. This was top-of-the-line kit too, the best they could make with what they had back in the day.

      One cannot help notice the different way of measuring “progress” in private industry and the DOD-complex;

      The Military is very big on Effort, not so much on results, so of course “Earned Value Management” is the big project management tool. Industry is big on deliverables, so, there we favor Toll-Gate models like PROPS / XLPM (One could use EMV with XPLM by aligning tollgates with deliverables with “accounts receivable” attached to them – I haven’t seen anyone do this).

      If Effort, Resources Used, Procurements made is your proxy for Progress – then it goes the way it goes.

  7. Cry Shop

    My favorite bit of MIC corruption was Sen. Diane Feinstein’s husband selling “low carbon” naval aviation jet fuel to the Pentagon on a “no bid” contract forced through by his loving wife. The business is a bit like Hellary’s beef futures, the man had no background in the business. Never mind that though, after purchasing it, and before selling it on, he knew enough to ship it by rail several times to and from Canada, re-invocing a new shell company each time to get an increase in the allowed mark-up.

    It kind of reminds me of how Marc Rich and Pincus Green made their considerable wealth from embargo dodging turn into a huge fortune by taking domestic price controlled oil and by whipping the invoices through multiple companies, accidentally changing the origin to Saudi or Venezuela, etc; they were able to quadruple the selling price – pure, crooked arbitrage. It would not surprise me if Diane’s husband was coached by Marc Rich, as Sen. Feinstein was instrumental in getting Bill Clinton to take the prize and give Marc Rich a conditional pardon upon paying a small part of his back taxes. The pardon, unfortunately for Marc, had a wording problem which in the end left him stuck in Switzerland, boo hoo.

    Diane’s husband has gone on to arbitrage the sale of Post Office Buildings, etc. So another confirmation it’s not just the Republicans. It’s very profitable to be a Democratic Senator looking after the little people’s interest (and selling them to the highest bidder). It’s a one party oligarchy, run by ALEC.

  8. Norb

    A new patriotism is what is needed. War profiteers have exploited the natural human need for community and solidarity since WW2. The real question is how do peaceful citizens take back power and control form an aggressive- war loving – cabal. Is that wish even possible or does the empire collapse due to its own corruption and internal contradictions. The empire plows on sucking everything into its grinding maw while the rest of us try to stay out of the way.

    Yes, we need to have whistle blowers revealing the corruption deep within empire. But something more fundamental is needed. We have know these abuses for decades and still the problems exist. A true patriot is one who builds and secures a community, not destroys it. The new patriotism needs to be built on quality of action, not on the loftiness of its rhetoric.

    It seems those of us in America have truly reinvented our English heritage. We are subjects of Empire. We are subjects not free citizens. We are subjects of corporate power and the Pentagon is a major manifestation of that fact. As citizens, by not holding the individuals who administer our institutions accountable to the broader welfare of the citizens, have forfeited our birthright.

    The real question now is do we have the will and intelligence to take it back- or will we continue to wander aimlessly form one crisis to the next.

  9. Paul Greenwood

    It real needs Rest of World to stop buying US equipment. That would force the cost amortisation off the agenda and the US would have major problems. NATO is simply a Tupperware Party for Munitions and they dane naked singing the NATO Song hoping for promotion to a higher echelon of the Bang, Booze and Broads awards.

    1. Ben

      US government or pentagon could easily neutralize such efforts by playing up, exaggerating threats from Russia, China and anywhere convenient or agitating for wars around the globe.

      1. fajensen

        What you mean “playing up”? It is very well documented that the US government is not shy of engineering both real threats, and actual attacks by the threats, whenever “interests” are threatened.

        What happens to “brown people” far away eventually happens at home too, to us, to people we know!

    2. JTMcPhee

      Our ruling military caste is sweeping across the planet, working very hard to increase what is called “interoperability” with the military and national-police castes of most other nations. Even in weird ways with nominal Enemies like Russia and China, where there are sales to be had for the greater aggrandizement of post-national, supranational war contractors.There’s a lot of entries in the DoD Dictionary of Military Terms under “interoperability,” but looking around through the mass of strategy documents, it’s clear that the idea is to bring all those foreign nationals under “unified command and control” under a “US (nominal)” hegemonic “leadership.”

      My favorite example is the strategic-thinking document that the “Defense Science Board” whipped up to both identify the many horrors facing the planet from climate change, a pretty good survey of 2011-current bad news, and to lay out how the Pentagram could end up running the world response to drowning coasts, mass migrations, instability, insurrection and the rest. With a lot of help from and wealth transfer to their good buddies in not only the “military-industrial” part of the corporate complex, but corporations that manufacture heavy earth-moving equipment, provide grand-scale engineering services, food production (GMO-enhanced), and a raft of other opportunities for rentiers and kleptocrats and autocrats to excel and prosper. To shorten the read, you can skip past the opening sections on the scope of the horrors the military planners know we are facing, hope we are facing as the basis for the claim that “Security Forces” must address them by “taking control,” and get on to page 67. Though the first part of the paper lists the various crisis elements but couches the discussion in syntax and thought processing that subtly or not so subtly lead to the “DoD Must Do It All, Find The One Ring To Bind Them” conclusion.

      Re waste and fraud stuff — one little anecdote from many, from my time with the First Cavalry in Vietnam, ’67-68: Huey helicopter main rotor blades are built from a D-shaped high-strength alloy forward spar, with skins of strong-alloy aluminum over an aluminum honeycomb filler, all glued together with a Dow adhesive. Cost as I recall it was about $75,000 apiece, not including delivery charges. Those blades tended to get dings and bullet holes in them. The manual for the UH-1 detailed how many holes, located just where, could be tolerated and repaired, before the blade would have to be “excessed.” Given the largesse of our supply chain, the easier thing to do was beat holes in the blades with a ball-pein hammer until the limits were exceeded, preferable in operational terms because it was often impossible to track and balance the blades after repairs, and us crew got shaken enough by the two-per-rev vibrations. So the dugout shelter next to my hooch had rotor blades as the base for the 10 layers of sandbags that made up the hopefully rocket-and-mortar-proof roof, and we had backstops for the company basketball hoops made of rotor blades sunk in the red hard dirt.

      Multiply that by millions of large and little shi! that goes on “in time of war” that is itself a failure and fraud, and pretty soon you are talking about how the species dies… More weapons, please, for my friend General Akhbar! Mr. Netanyahoo, no pushing and shoving at the smorgasbord table, plenty of cluster bombs and such for everyone! And Marshal Cheong, would you like a little spiff for purchasing some of our Blackhawk helicopters for “liaison use?” They can be sumptuously fitted for your pleasure…

      1. susan the other

        It depends on how fast we are overtaken by the climate. Estimates vary from 8 decades all the way down to 2. From 6 inches of ocean rise all the way up to 6 meters. Having a Defense Science Board plot the future is logical. And it will be a new mandate for the military. Especially since war is a very harmful practice environmentally. And mentally. This new planning could be a good thing. If the military squanders trillions on earth science and the environment I’m all for it and the jobs it will create. And since we know that the one thing the military is good at is procuring and spending money without much accounting, why not give them better reasons to spend?

        1. susan the other

          The pace of recycling has been too slow. The military would be better at it than the market.

          1. JTMcPhee

            The military I knew is kind of past. But the military I read about, and I read a lot about it in trade pubs and military blogs and documents and other sources, sure leads me to believe you are way off Joint-Base with the notion that the greedheads and bureaucrats and self-pleasers that mostly “set policy” and run things in the Pentagram (including the Defense Science Board, which is all about weapons and war toys and instruments of repression, all futuristic and set up for cover pictures for “Popular Science” and such Oorah magazines) is coming from and running toward a set off behaviors and doctrines and all that have little chance of being any kind of “good thing.”

            And people that do recycling via “burn pits?” Do you know how “policies” and orders get generated in the military, and how it looks like the worst of Sears Roebuck bureaucracy with a huge helping of brain-deadness and go-along-ing and studied and careless inefficiency piled on top?

            And since when, other than to define a new “Reason We HAve To Exist And Keep Eating Your Economy And Future” Enemy Threat, does the bloated dysfunctional blimp called “the military” show any interest in a “new mandate,” except to feed the Blob that it has become, augmented in ever increasing ways by the “tech” remoras and barnacles that are do happily and seriously and opportunistically attaching themselves to the Great White Shark that’s cruising along all our beaches, and moving up all the rivers… There’s a huge corruption there, with at its heart, among other things, a bunch of Air Force officers with the keys to the MIRVs that are all about Xtian Armageddon. Time to watch the second old-style “Planet of the Apes” movie again, to see how it’s probably going to turn out.

            Meantime, the O-5s and up continue to live like kings, and move on to even “greener” pastures with the war contractors. Like Lockheed “We never forget who we’re working for” Martin — gee, I wonder what the PR tird who thought that one up had in mind… and wanted us mopes who pay for all this to think it means…

  10. craazyboy

    The US Constitution requires the government to protect us and our borders. But we shouldn’t expect perfection in the execution of this responsibility. The MIC is only human (so far – robots/computers on the way!!) and no one is perfect.

    I think the author was little unfair towards the African Elephant idea. A “Swiss army knife”, overly general, “bomb detection” mission was probably scope creep (which is quite common in the DOD design process), but if you consider the more narrow mission of mine field detection, it’s easy to see how elephants would be very effective. They work for peanuts, which a plus. Logistically, Africa is close to the Middle East and North Africa. Some drawbacks – in order to accurately map out the size and shape of a mine field, you would use up quite a few elephants. And they eat a lotta, lotta peanuts. They’re kinda big and heavy. Not so transport friendly. However, relatively speaking, these drawbacks don’t sound too bad compared to some of our other weapon systems. Elephants can be bred by contractors, peanuts probably are only $10 a piece and we have C5s and C130s already, so that’s all sunk cost there. Like I say…not bad!

    Once the MIC gains some operating experience with elephants, it is always possible a wider variety of missions could be suitable for the African Elephant.

    America needs to revisit the African Elephant idea.

  11. Watt4Bob

    An article explaining the difficulty of auditing the Pentagon, and no mention of the fact that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld told congress, on September 10th 200,1 that DOD could not account for $2.3 Trillion.

    And on September 11th, an invisible commercial passenger jet supposedly hit the Pentagon, destroying the offices of the auditing team assigned the job of finding what happened to the money.

    From The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 20, 2001: “One Army office in the Pentagon lost 34 of its 65 employees in the attack. Most of those killed in the office, called Resource Services Washington, were civilian accountants, bookkeepers and budget analysts. They were at their desks when American Airlines Flight 77 struck.”

    1. Steve Gunderson

      Invisible jet?

      Why do people believe the military is competent enough to blow up the Pentagon in secret, but yet not competent to win a war??

      1. JTMcPhee

        Different missions. And besides, going by the investments and behaviors and outcomes, it seems pretty clear that no part of The Mission is to “win wars.” That would be, er, kind of self-defeating for The System, now wouldn’t it? “War is nothing but a big racket.” Not the exact quote, but the nature of what has filled out, bloated out, as the essence of Milo Minderbinder’s M&M Enterprises, “and everyone has a share,” is kind of incontrovertible.

        1. kimyo

          no part of The Mission is to “win wars.”

          this applies to each and every ‘war’ the government wages in our name – be it drugs, poverty, gun violence, terror, or carbon.

      2. Watt4Bob

        So you haven’t watched the video of the event?

        Watch the video and then tell me you see a Boeing 757, or an airplane of any sort.

    2. Bas

      not to mention the pallets of cash that vaporized on arrival in Iraq.

      “Bremer’s financial adviser, retired Admiral David Oliver, is even more direct. The memorandum quotes an interview with the BBC World Service. Asked what had happened to the $8.8bn he replied: “I have no idea. I can’t tell you whether or not the money went to the right things or didn’t – nor do I actually think it’s important.”

      Q: “But the fact is billions of dollars have disappeared without trace.”

      Oliver: “Of their money. Billions of dollars of their money, yeah I understand. I’m saying what difference does it make?”

      Mr Bremer, whose disbanding of the Iraqi armed forces and de-Ba’athification programme have been blamed as contributing to the present chaos, told the committee: “I acknowledge that I made mistakes and that with the benefit of hindsight, I would have made some decisions differently. Our top priority was to get the economy moving again. The first step was to get money into the hands of the Iraqi people as quickly as possible.”

      Millions of civil service families had not received salaries or pensions for months and there was no effective banking system. “It was not a perfect solution,” he said. “Delay might well have exacerbated the nascent insurgency and thereby increased the danger to Americans.” ”

      and not to mention that auditing accountants who were sent to look into this matter had their lives threatened.

      1. polecat

        “I’m saying what difference does it make?”…………

        Now…….from whose lips have we also heard that phrase uttered??.

          1. RMO

            I suppose I should have realized that it was a forlorn hope to think that might be a link to a Smiths song.

    3. cynicalCanuck

      It is unfortunate that this ‘little detail’ has been lost in the fog of war. And that any questions around 911 bring ridicule or silence.

      Thanks for the reminder.

  12. RWood

    Might take another look at that “complex”. I have it that the General (Ike) was ready to blast the challenger and his cabal (Kennedy, and Congressmen generally) over the missile gap (w/faked USSR stats) that was baking in constant increases in DoW (Dept o’Wahr) — but those better schooled in polysci said it wouldn’t do to insult the solons.

  13. visitor

    spending of $50,000 to investigate the bomb-detecting capabilities of African elephants.

    Perhaps they were thinking that since African rats are already quite successfully used to detect mines, elephants would be even more capable — because for the US military “bigger is better”?

    US defense contractors are permitted to use foreign-sourced chips, which means from China. We even buy military uniforms and boots from China.

    The fact that China pops up time and again as a supplier is the logical consequence of Western firms, including weapons manufacturers, off-shoring their production to China. This has been going for a long time, and affects some inconspicuous, but strategic elements of modern weaponry.

    1. JTMcPhee

      Re bomb detection, the War Department created the Joint IED Detection Task Force a decade ago, After billions spent on “process” and “tech,” it appears that the best way to detect IEDs is via the five senses (or the blasted bodies) of the Troops who are sent out to patrol and kick in doors in all those places where the Empire goes to pick fights with Wogs who will kill a few troops, thus justifying “surges” and “extended missions” and all the rest. A tiny example of what many refer to as “milbabble,” though generated by that sterling honest giant sponge of a government contractor, RAND, whose principals and “effectives” never told any giant lies about anything,'s_university_of_imperialism/:

      The Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) was created in 2006
      to focus efforts to counter this asymmetric threat. Its charter included direction to train the force
      on the improvised explosive device (IED) threat and countermeasures, as well as ensure that
      training on new equipment and systems is conducted correctly. JIEDDO was formed with unique
      authorities and capabilities, and there has been concern about its potential for duplicating
      programs and functions carried out by the Services and other agencies in the Department of
      Defense. The 2013 National Defense Authorization Act directed the Secretary of Defense to
      carry out an assessment of training programs and functions to assess duplication. In support of
      this effort, the RAND study team was asked to assess whether JIEDDO duplicated or showed
      close similarity to the training programs and functions already conducted by the Services and
      U.S. Special Operations Command. If duplication were observed, RAND was also asked to
      provide a statement of value. This report will be of interest to organizations and people assessing
      responses to asymmetric challenges, organizational change, and decisions on programs that may
      lack clear sponsorship.

      This research was sponsored by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel
      and Readiness and funded by JIEDDO. It was conducted in the Forces and Resources Policy
      center of the National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development
      center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified
      Combatant Commands, the U.S. Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense
      Intelligence Community.

      The whole fokking game is stupid, but apparently baked into the human genome, and our history and socio-political and belief structures, so completely that there ain’t no way out. Barring, possibly, some advent of a “Martian Enemy” of the sort Reagan discussed with was it Gorbachev, wistfully wishing that such an Enemy would appear, so us humans could all start being “on the same side.” Though of course given human history and behavior, there would be those Quisling types who would suck up to the Martian overlords and sell out their fellow humans to get a bigger ration of chocolate and an extra MRE a week…

  14. Strangely Enough

    Oldie, but still relevant:

    Other items offered in the catalogue include a $285 screwdriver, a $7,622 coffee maker, a $387 flat washer, a $469 wrench, a $214 flashlight, a $437 tape measure, a $2,228 monkey wrench, a $748 pair of duckbill pliers, a $74,165 aluminum ladder, a $659 ashtray and a $240- million airplane.

    That $240 million airplane seems a bargain, these days…

  15. casino implosion

    Military Keynesianism. It’s the only politically acceptable way to get the gummint money into circulation.

  16. Steve in Flyover

    After scanning the comments, it is obvious that the general public doesn’t have a freaking clue about the costs/economics of the airplane business.

    (For example, the F-35 “problems” are being found in the “test/evaluation/reliability phase. Which is the part of the test program specifically designed/intended to uncover these issues, before you start flying this airplane in regular squadron service. The plan is to let experienced pilots find the problems and correct them, before you start handing this airplane to newbie guys just out of flight school)

    As far as costs, let’s just throw a few of my recent invoices out there, just for grins, from the “free market” (Note: civilian owned large cabin business jet):

    -Disassemble main landing gear wheel, NDT inspect, reassemble with new seals,bearings and new tire = $2500.00 (times four)

    -Annual inspection of life raft (we have two), including Hazmat shipping = $2000 each

    -Maintenance and Flight Manual revision service (because the FAA required that you fix and fly the airplane using current manuals) = $12,000/year

    -Disassemble and repair engine inlet that had developed cracks = $50,000

    -Maintenance reserve for engines and APU (to pay for scheduled engine maintenance/”hot sections”/overhauls = $1400 per FLIGHT Hour (and that’s relatively cheap)

    – Upgrade Flight Management systems and transponders to DO-260B (mandatory for operations after January 1,2020…….we are trying to stay ahead of the stampeding herd that doesn’t think the FAA will enforce the mandate) = about $250,000

    (Avionics items like FMS systems are “aircraft specific”. A box built for a Dassault Falcon won’t work in a Gulfstream/Cessna/Boeing/Airbus. On top of this, a box built for a Gulfstream IV won’t work in a Gulfstream V or 650)

    – Repaint airplane = $90-150,000, depending on the shop and the airplane

    -Landing gear inspection/overhaul (not including fixing any problems found during the inspection) = $500,000

    Frankly, if someone told me they had fixed a helicopter gearbox with a “gear” that cost $500, I wouldn’t get within 300 feet of the POS. Barring a major airframe structural failure, you still have a chance if you are in an airplane and it has an engine/gearbox failure. In a helicopter, a sudden catastrophic engine or rotor failure means you are totally effed.

    Airplane/helicopter parts aren’t really “mass produced”. Stuff like toilet seats and coffee makers are custom built for the application, minimizing weight and designed to be “fail safe”.

    Military stuff is on an order of magnitude more expensive, because of the higher performance requirements. Lots of carbon fiber/composites. Along with the cost of materials and the equipment and certified personnel to build the parts, you also have the composite disposal problem. Scrap aluminum has some “value”, and can be sold. Composite scrap is “hazardous waste”, and has to be disposed of as such. $500/pound is the last price I heard about.

    As related to me by a friend who works in the parts division of one of the bizjet OEMs, companies that build stuff for the General Public (like the auto manufacturers and their suppliers) don’t want to have anything to do with the aerospace business. A big “run”of parts for aircraft is 1000 pieces/shipsets. Most manufacturers in the US (the ones that are left) won’t even talk to you unless you are buying 25,000 pieces or more. Especially when the aerospace stuff has such high requirements for materials and tracking, plus the high cost of liability.

    The US has chosen to take the “fewer high-tech airplanes, flying multiple roles/missions” path. Which costs a bunch of money. What people ignore is that a higher number of lower tech airplanes (like the A-10) also has “costs”. Like paying the additional personnel required to operate and maintain those extra airframes. Especially 30-40 year old airframes like the A-10, where most of the companies that made spare parts/subassemblies for them disappeared a long time ago.

    In the civilian market, 30 year old airplanes are being scrapped, because nobody makes the parts to fix them anymore. Especially the electronics. Try finding someone who can fix a CRT type television, or an old car stereo. Airplanes have the exact same problem

    1. Bas

      The military’s answer to this is apparently burn pits.

      Composite scrap is “hazardous waste”, and has to be disposed of as such. $500/pound is the last price I heard about.

      Then again, my brother worked as a civilian civil engineer in Remediation for the Air Force, so I guess they used to dispose of things properly.

      Owning a money pit does not justify the cost, IMO. But it’s your money, so, your decision to spend it on what you please. What I complain of is the resistance and indignation, and total cluelessness, the MIC displays when they are asked to account for the expense, “cost over-runs”, product failures, and on and on, paid for by taxpayers.

      1. JTMcPhee

        No, they did not dispose of things properly in the old Air Force either. That “Remediation” was likely work that the EPA, or a state agency in its stead, mandated under the quite limited powers Congress proscribed (yes, that’s the word) for the EPA over “the military” under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, colloquially the “Superfund” law. And analogous authorities under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The Air Force and its contractors were pretty egregious and prodigal and profligate in dumping toxic and hazardous waste, and then claiming immunity from any “costly obligation that would damage the Readiness of the Service.” And of course there’s all those poisoned Marines and their families who got dosed with carcinogenic tetrachloronastiness at Camp Lejeune, for years after the Big Chief Marine knew all about it… Here’s an interesting link for a list of such military (including contractor-operated) sites, including Lejeune:, and some more context,

        And from my experience as an EPA enforcer, the “remediator’s” job was to cut to a bare minimum the amount of investigation and eventual remediation that was done, and manage the PR to keep it all quiet. And make the occasional veiled threats. And yes, there were some good people on the military side, but they tended not to influence outcomes or last very long in grade…

    2. scott Hampton

      To your point, back in the early nineties, a VERY SMALL company I worked at, basically a fancy machine shop, was the ONLY bidder to make replacement bearings for the F-111 main wing actuating mechanism.

      There were over 200 pages of specifications and associated documents. It took us three months to figure out how to make these parts – nobody remembered the tricks that make a run of 250 parts easy.

      We billed the hell out of that job. For good reason. At one point, we were driving semi-finished parts in custom foam packs over 300 miles to the only shop around that could do the retemper run on the specialty alloy.

      So yes – this shit is really damn expensive.

      But still, the F-35 is an amazing corrupt and stupid program.

      1. cnchal

        . . . There were over 200 pages of specifications and associated documents . . .

        Document bloat. Ka ching!

        What is stupid about the F35 is that no matter how fine and accurate all the individual parts are, the sum is substantially less than the whole. It has been described as procurement malpractice, and when push comes to shove will their pilots be willing go on a suicide mission?

        Put another way, it’s like bringing a Nascar truck to race against Formula One cars. At least the truck can carry a fan in the bed, even though it will be last.

  17. QuarterBack

    Last Wednesday, the GAO presented testimony before the Senate Budget Committee. The statement of the Comptroller General was the most politely damning financial report I have ever read.

    The document can be found at their website:

    From the initial “What GAO Found” on, it is a horror story of non-accountability.

    Here is a brief gem from the intro (emphasis added):

    Three major impediments are: (1) serious financial management problems at DOD, which represented 30 percent and 15 percent of the government’s reported total assets and net costs, respectively;(2) the government’s inability to adequately account for and reconcile a significant amount of intragovernmental activity and balances between federal entities, which resulted in hundreds of billions of dollars in differences;and (3) the government’s ineffective process for preparing the U.S. government’s consolidated financial statements (governmentwide financial statements).

    BTW, remember they are speaking to FY2015 only.

  18. ewmayer

    Random snip on U.S. militarism — With the recent start of baseball season, popped my venerable copy of Bull Durham into the VCR last night (no DVD copy yet, though I will likely buy a used one for the extras) and re-watched this 1988 sports/comedy/romance classic. Was reading the Wikipedia entry on the film just now and came across this near the end:

    In 2003, a 15th anniversary celebration of Bull Durham at the National Baseball Hall of Fame was canceled by Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey. Petroskey, who was on the White House staff during the Reagan administration, told [Tim] Robbins that the actor’s public opposition to the US-led war in Iraq helped to “undermine the U.S. position, which could put our troops in even more danger.” [Kevin] Costner, a self-described libertarian, defended Robbins and [Susan] Sarandon, saying, “I think Tim and Susan’s courage is the type of courage that makes our democracy work. Pulling back this invite is against the whole principle about what we fight for and profess to be about.”

    All I can say is: Fuck you, Ronald Reagan, and fuck you, DC warmonger cabalists. (and that includes you, Hillary Clinton.)

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