McCain for FCS?

John McCain attacked Barack Obama last week for saying that he would slow development of the Army’s $160 billion modernization program, Future Combat Systems.* That is interesting, because McCain was himself recently against the program. In a budget plan released in July, the McCain campaign said FCS should be “ended.”

Because he brought it up, it’s worth noting one curious facet of McCain’s former opposition to FCS, noted recently by Gordon Adams in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists but no major media: FCS is a Boeing-run program, as were the two other programs that McCain came out against in his July budget plan – Airborne Laser, a type of missile defense, and Globemaster, a cargo plane. These are the only three defense programs that McCain has advocated canceling during the campaign. (Obama has not mentioned any defense programs that he would cancel.) 

All three programs deserve to be ended. But it may be no coincidence that McCain opposes only Boeing programs. He has been feuding with Boeing since the aborted 2002 Air Force refueling tanker lease deal. The short version of that saga (McCain gave his summation on the Senate floor in 2004) is that the Air Force tried to push a deal through Congress where they would lease tankers from Boeing without competition, adding costs for taxpayers. Authority for the deal was in a Defense Appropriations Bill and therefore would have bypassed authorizers like McCain. McCain led the opposition, in the process disgorging documents showing Pentagon and Boeing officials working together on the deal through various chicanery including corruption. McCain won – Air Force Secretary Jim Roche lost his job and Pentagon and Boeing officials were convicted of crimes – but may still be punishing his enemies. Last fall, McCain successfully pressed the Pentagon to change the requirements for the tanker deal in two ways that aided the bid of Boeing’s rival, EADS-Northrop. Some suggest that he did this because of campaign contributions from Northrop and EADS executives and the presence of their lobbyists on his campaign. It seems more likely that McCain was just out to get Boeing.

*Here’s what McCain said about Obama and FCS, according to the Army Times: “He promised them he would, quote, ‘slow our development of Future Combat Systems’. This is not a time to slow our development of Future Combat Systems.”

Maybe McCain is pretending that he thinks Obama’s comment means he is against all future combat systems in the military rather than the program of that name. But that would be a particularly naked lie.  McCain obviously knows what Obama meant; he complained about the program on the Senate Armed Service Committee for years. So I’m being charitable and assuming that he just changed his mind.