It's down to the wire in the battle to keep the Senate from adding $1.75 billion to the Pentagon budget for more F-22 fighter planes, and the proponents of more flying pork are running out of arguments.
At $350 million, the F-22 is the most expensive fighter plane ever built, by a long shot. It has not been used in Iraq or Afghanistan and is not likely to be used in any future conflict. If by some miracle a mission is found for the aircraft, the U.S. Air Force will have 187 of them, even if another dime isn't appropriated to build more F-22s. The F-22 is a maintenance nightmare, needing 30 hours of maintenance for every hour in flight, and costing almost $50,000 per hour to operate.
So, what argument do F-22 advocates have left? Jobs. But even here, their claims don't hold up to scrutiny. Lockheed Martin's original claim of 95,000 jobs sustained by keeping the F-22 program going was so fraudulent that they decided to take down the Web site -- preserveraptorjobs.com -- that was used to trumpet those numbers.
Now the debate revolves around a lower number, the alleged 25,000 in jobs involved directly in the production of the F-22. This number hasn't been documented either, but it might be in the ballpark for the number of jobs tied up in the program now.
But even this lower figure somehow suggests that 25,000 jobs will be lost if Congress doesn't immediately pony up another $1.75 billion (or more) for additional F-22s. Nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, F-22 assembly is scheduled to continue through December 2011, even if there isn't another dime spent on the program. So stopping the funding for the program now will have very little job impact for over two years, during which time alternative employment options can be developed. Second, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates's budget calls for increases in systems like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that are produced in many of the same facilities that now make F-22s. So even after the two year period, there is likely to be an ongoing flow of Pentagon contracts to most of the places involved with work on the F-22.
Last but not least, funding the F-22 will cost more jobs than it will create. According to a 2007 study by economists at the University of Massachusetts, military spending creates fewer jobs than virtually any other form of government activity, from a tax cut to education to mass transit to energy efficiency. Spending $1.75 billion on F-22s instead of a tax cut would cost 4,000 net jobs; spending the same $1.75 billion on F-22s instead of mass transit would cost nearly 20,000 net jobs.
The F-22 debate should be about what we need to defend the country. By that measure, the program should already have been terminated. But if the proponents of this unnecessary boondoggle want to use jobs as their argument of last resort, we should at least look at the full picture. Spending more on F-22s will kill jobs, not create them.