The Senate voted Tuesday to kill the nation’s premier fighter‐jet program, embracing by a 58 to 40 margin the argument of President Obama and his top military advisers that more F‑22s are not needed for the nation’s defense and would be a costly drag on the Pentagon’s budget in an era of small wars and counterinsurgency efforts.
While this vote marks a step in the right direction, the fight isn’t over. The F‑22’s supporters in the House inserted additional monies in the defense authorization bill, and the differences will need to be reconciled in conference. But the vote for the Levin‐McCain amendment signals that Congress will take seriously President Obama and Secretary Gates’ intent to bring some measure of rationality to defense budgeting.
The Raptor’s whopping price tag— nearly $350 million per aircraft counting costs over the life of the program— and its poor air‐to‐ground capabilities always undermined the case for building more than the 187 already programmed.
In the past week, Congress has learned more about the F‑22’s poor maintenance record, which has driven the operating costs well above those of any comparable fighter. And, of course, the plane hasn’t seen action over either Iraq or Afghanistan, and likely never will.
Beyond the F‑22 and the Joint Strike Fighter, we need a renewed emphasis in military procurement on cost containment. This can only occur within an environment of shrinking defense budgets. Defense contractors who are best able to meet stringent cost and quality standards will win the privilege of providing our military with the necessary tools, but at far less expense to the taxpayers. And those who cannot will have to find other business.