The Unaffordable F-35 | Budget History & Alternatives

The Unaffordable F-35 | Budget History & Alternatives

National Security,  | Analysis
Oct 1, 2014  | 22 min read | Print Article

For the past several years, Taxpayers for Common Sense has been scrutinizing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

On track to be the most expensive weapon system in U.S. history, we believe the Congress should re-evaluate its affordability. You will find here a collection of our writings on the F-35, ranging from our in-depth report, “The Unaffordable F-35” through fact sheets and opinion pieces. We also include links to interviews of TCS staff talking about the program.

The Unaffordable F-35: Budget History and Alternatives

At least $8 billion of the Pentagon’s budget for fiscal year 2015 is devoted to a single aircraft program: the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Already on track to be the most expensive weapon system in history, the F-35 is becoming a black hole in the Pentagon budget.

In the face of continuing budget cuts, it is worth considering more conservative investments the military could be making. The DoD “base” budget request for this year is $495.6 billion.1 This single aircraft, one item in the entire U.S. military arsenal, is eating up approximately 1.6% of the entire Pentagon budget in FY15. 2

Of the total Pentagon FY15 procurement request of $90.6 billion, $6.3 billion – just under 7 percent of the entire Pentagon unclassified procurement request – is being spent on procurement of a single aircraft program.

F-35: Faster ≠ Cheaper (November 4, 2016)

Recently, seventy lawmakers sent a letter to the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Appropriations panel who are tasked with negotiating on the FY17 Defense Appropriations bill. They asked them to press for an increase in the number of F-35s purchased in FY17 from the 63 aircraft requested by the Pentagon to 74 aircraft. The eleven additional aircraft would be spread across all three services: five for the Air Force, four for the Navy, and two for the Marines.

Check Under the Pentagon’s Sofa Cushions (November 14, 2014)

At the beginning of September, the Pentagon asked Congress for the flexibility to “re-program” $1.3 billion previously appropriated for two specific OCO accounts….They wanted to spend that money, instead, to buy eight F-35s to “replace” fighter aircraft lost by the Marines (Harriers) and the Air Force (F-15s) several years ago. But since the F-35 isn’t operational, and certainly isn’t being used overseas, it seemed to us to be an odd use of Overseas Contingency Operations money.

Taxpayer Tricks and Treats (October 31, 2014)

TREAT: The House Appropriations Committee rejected the Pentagon’s attempt to use Overseas Contingency Funds to purchase eight new F-35s. Sure they tried to dress the F-35 up in a costume that makes it look like it is an aircraft that is actually operational and flying overseas. But the committee saw through the ruse and gave taxpayers a TREAT.

Brother, Can You Spare a Billion? (October 10, 2014)

The Pentagon isn’t above using OCO as a slush fund for things like eight additional F-35s, (which are not operational for warfighting) at a cost of more than $1 billion! Luckily, the Congress denied that ludicrous attempt to blur the line between actual warfighting versus relieving budget “pressures” in the Pentagon.

Pricey Plane to Keep (September 25, 2014)

The Pentagon’s fancy new fighter, the F-35, is on pace to be the most expensive weapon acquisition in history. Not surprisingly, we keep an eye on the F-35 because of its eye-popping price tag. So we were appalled with a request from the Pentagon at the beginning of this month to shift funds from the so-called Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund, which is supposed to be for direct warfighting costs, to instead accelerate the purchase of eight F-35s, which considering they aren’t operational yet, aren’t doing any warfighting. Luckily, the House Appropriations Committee put the kibosh on that budgetary sleight of hand last week, as we wrote about here.

Loco for OCO (September 12, 2014)

For sheer chutzpah, it’s hard to beat the reprogramming request the Pentagon sent to Capitol Hill this week. This reprogramming seeks to transfer $1.9 billion in previously approved Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) cash to programs different than those the Congress originally approved. Reprogramming funding is not unheard of – typically these requests transfer money to accounts like fuel, travel expenses, or wartime “expendables” like ammunition that is being used at a faster rate than originally anticipated.

With this request, however, the Pentagon is asking to transfer $1.3 billion from Army and Pentagon-wide Operations and Maintenance accounts to build more F-35s than originally requested for both the Marine Corps and the Air Force.  Just to be clear, F-35s cannot be used in combat today, or tomorrow. How can they replace combat aircraft? How are they at all a part of overseas “contingencies”?

Joint Strike Fighter: The Platinum Plated Spork (April 25, 2014)

There is a reason your flatware drawer has forks, knives, and spoons instead of dozens of sporks.  Each utensil is good at something; sporks may claim to be the jack of all utensil trades, but they are master of none.  Now imagine that a dozen sporks would cost you more than a dozen complete sets of silverware.  In that case outfitting your house with sporks would take you from eccentric to foolish.

The new fighter the Pentagon is buying – the most expensive weapon acquisition in history at nearly $400 billion and rising – is the equivalent of a platinum plated spork.

Pentagon’s Budget Bamboozle (November 12, 2014)

This week, the administration released budget details of the $5 billion “amendment” to its request for the Pentagon’s Overseas Contingency Operations to “degrade and ultimately defeat” the Islamic State group. The request also included about a half a billion in additional funds for the Department of State. Add that to the most current Overseas Contingency Operations request of $58.6 billion and you have a grand total of $63.6 billion in extra cash requested for Pentagon programs….

New Fiscal Year Resolutions (October 1, 2014)

There was a little bit of good news in fiscal year 2014: The country avoided a second government shutdown. And just last week, Congress declined to reprogram more than $1 billion to buy eight F-35 fighter jets…

Ground the F-35 Forever: Spending on the overdue plane is totally out of control (July 09, 2014)

The F-35 “Lightning” is in the news again. This is the joint development program to produce a new fighter aircraft, in three different variants, for the Air Force, the Navy and the Marine Corps. The Pentagon grounded the planes recently after an engine caught fire as one of the planes prepared for takeoff at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The pilot was able to safely exit the aircraft, but unexplained engine fires on a single-engine aircraft like the F-35 demand immediate attention, thus leading to the grounding…

Safety hazards with military aircraft are a serious matter, and the F-35 is certainly not the first aircraft to have troubles in the development process. But the F-35 is on track to be the most expensive weapons system in Pentagon history…

Some Sane Defense Spending Ideas (June 25, 2014)

In my column on May 28, I discussed the Senate Armed Services Committee’s consideration of the Pentagon policy bill for fiscal year 2015. I noted missed opportunities to make policy changes that would help to make the Pentagon budget sustainable in these times of fiscal restraint.

Last week the House of Representatives passed its version of the Pentagon appropriations bill. Unlike the authorization bill, which sets policy, the appropriations bill is where the fiscal rubber meets the road. Once the president signs the appropriations bill (after Senate action and then a meeting to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions), checks can be cut by the U.S. Treasury and money begins to flow. So this is the legislation that needs to be shaped if you want to affect the federal deficit and ensure smart use of the taxpayers’ money.

Defense Bill Is Mostly Bad News for Taxpayers (May 28, 2014)

Late last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee finalized its consideration of the fiscal year 2015 policy legislation for the Department of Defense. It is important to differentiate between these “authorizing” bills and the ones that actually have the power to appropriate money. So, although the bill and report language talks about so much money for this and so much money for that, remember that this legislation initiates no actual spending.

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Overall, the bill authorizes $514 billion for the Pentagon and the national security programs at the Department of Energy. The good news for the taxpayer, (this part of the column will be short), is the committee didn’t include any authority to spend money for the Overseas Contingency Operations account. And the committee includes language requiring the secretary to plan to transition money from the contingency budget to the “base” budget – but only for the Special Operations Command.

How Lockheed Martin Costs Taxpayers Big Money (February 20, 2014)

If you are paying attention to the Winter Olympics, you may have read about the embarrassing debut of the Under Armour Mach 39 super suits American speed skaters were wearing in Sochi. Failure to produce even one speed skating medal for the Americans (despite a pretty talented and well-ranked team heading into the games) has Under Armour on the defensive – the company’s stock price even took a hit.

Critics are paying less attention to Under Armnour’s high tech, aerodynamics partner, defense giant Lockheed Martin. But if you look at Lockheed Martin’s recent track record with the F-35, well on its’ way to becoming the most expensive plane in U. S. military history, you have to wonder why Under Armour wanted to partner with it in the first place.

In the News

Time to Get Real about the F-35 (Huffington Post October 7, 2014)

Gov Watch Report Says Air Force Overspending by Billions  (Dayton Daily News October 6, 2014)

Five by Five Friday: Q&A with Steve Ellis  (Roll Call October 3, 2014)

“When it comes to the Pentagon, if it’s worth spending, it’s worth overspending,” said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense…

Capital Insider: The F-35 and Congress (October 1, 2014)

Earlier this month, the Pentagon sent a request to Congress that would speed up the purchase of eight fighter jets. A few days later, the proposal was rejected. Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, discussed the F-35 and the upcoming midterm elections with Capital Insider.

Podcast: The Expensive Saga of the F-35 with Wendy Jordan of Taxpayers for Common Sense (May 02, 2014)

Wendy Jordan of Taxpayers for Common Sense joins the podcast to discuss their new report on just how much the F-35 weapons program has cost you. Pete & Doug review the latest taxpayer news – and as always the Outrage of the Week!

Capital Insider: Funding the F35 (April 29, 2014)

At least $8 billion of the Pentagon’s 2015 budget is dedicated to the aircraft. After years of development, the project is turning into a financial black hole for the agency. Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, discussed that and other topics with Capital Insider.

Our Take

Highlights of Department of Defense Reclama of House and Senate Authorization Bills (October 31, 2014)

Congress Nixes Pentagon’s Latest F-35 Request (September 23, 2014)

On September 8th, the Pentagon sent the Congress a request to reprogram Overseas Contingency Operations funds to accelerate the buy of eight F-35 fighter aircraft.  Later that week, on the 12th, we wrote a Weekly Wastebasket highlighting the ludicrous nature of this request.  It illuminates our long-held belief that OCO has become a slush fund the Pentagon just can’t spend fast enough.

Senate Appropriations Committee Approves Nearly $550 Billion Spending Bill (July 18, 2014)

This week the Senate Appropriations Committee took up the Pentagon spending bill for fiscal year (FY) 2015. When all was said and done, the Committee passed a bill that proposes spending just under $490 billion on the Pentagon “base” budget. This is within shouting distance of what the House Appropriations Committee passed last month at just slightly less than $491 billion.

House Approps Takes Up Pentagon Spending Bill (June 13, 2014)

This week the House Appropriations Committee took up the Pentagon spending bill for fiscal year (FY) 2015. When all was said and done, the Committee passed a bill that proposes spending just under $491 billion on the Pentagon “base” budget.

The bill also approves more than $79 billion for the so-called “Overseas Contingency Operations” budget – what the rest of us call “war funding.” This is disappointing because, as the Committee report notes, this huge pot of money is just a placeholder until the Administration submits a plan with actual line items and other details. For this reason, the Committee report says, “this level is subject to change.” We can only hope that any changes to this enormous account cut the level of funding, not increase it. We’ll be reporting on what is in the actual request as soon as it becomes public.


When $1.5 Trillion Could Be Too Low, the Price Tag Is Too High (October 01, 2014)
by, Ryan Alexander

It’s not yet clear exactly how much the Pentagon’s fancy new F-35 combat jet will cost or when any of these stealth fighters will become operational. But the F-35 already shows great promise in the tough competition to become the most expensive weapons program ever undertaken.

Because of the jet’s projected eye-popping price tag of up to $344.8 million each, we at Taxpayers for Common Sense have always kept an eye on the F-35. And we were appalled by a request from the Pentagon in early September to shift funds from the so-called Overseas Contingency Operations fund to accelerate the purchase of eight of these planes.


Bipartisan Coalition Sends Letter to Armed Services with Final NDAA Recommendations (October 16th)

Letter to Senate Appropriations Committee: Reject more funding for F-35 (July 15, 2014)

This week the Senate Appropriations Committee began its consideration of H.R. 4870, the appropriations bill for the Department of Defense. We urge you to reject any attempts to increase funding for the F-35.

As passed by the House of Representatives, the bill would spend an additional $479 million on four more F-35 aircraft than requested by the Pentagon. This additional money is on top of the $8 billion the Pentagon requested for procurement, R&D, and military construction for the F-35 across the three services planning to eventually fly the plane.

TCS urges support for Defense Appropriations amendments (June 19, 2014)

Taxpayers for Common Sense is a national, non-partisan, budget watchdog group. We strive to make sure the budget makes sense and that budget legislation doesn’t add to the current deficit burden. With those goals in mind, we have combed through the list of amendments drafted for consideration during the debate on H.R. 4870, the Department of Defense Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2015. There are several amendments that meet these goals but we would like to call your attention to three amendments in particular.

Letter to the Senate: Reject the F-35 (May 16, 2014)

At Taxpayers for Common Sense, we have analyzed the budget history of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35 program. On track to be the most expensive weapon system in history, at close to $400 billion, we believe the program warrants a second look. Just in FY15 the Pentagon is asking for more than $8 billion for this single aircraft system when you add up procurement, R&D, and military construction. Of that $8 billion, $6.3 billion is for procurement across the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy.  And that $6.3 billion is an astonishing 7% of the total Pentagon weapons procurement request.

Letter to the House: Reject the F-35 (April 28, 2014)

At Taxpayers for Common Sense, we have analyzed the budget history of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35 program. On track to be the most expensive weapon system in history, at close to $400 billion, we believe the program warrants a second look. Just in FY15 the Pentagon is asking for more than $8 billion for this single aircraft system. That is seven percent of the total Pentagon weapons procurement request. To put it in context, the entire Army Reserve (personnel, O&M, military construction and procurement excluding the National Guard and Reserve Equipment account) costs $8 billion. So, ask yourself, which is a better use of that much of the taxpayers’ money?

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