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Some Things We Could Have Done With the Billions Wasted on a Broken F-35

From coast-to-coast fiber broadband to student loan forgiveness, the program’s $1.5 trillion budget—with billions already spent—could go a long way elsewhere.

by Karl Bode
Jan 31 2020, 7:03pm

Image: Flickr/

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For the better part of the last decade, the US Defense Department's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program has epitomized government waste and dysfunction. A report last year by the DOD highlighted how the government’s F-35 development program has long been a hot mess, resulting in a hugely expensive aircraft plagued with bugs and glaring software vulnerabilities. This year’s report is even worse.

Bloomberg received an early look at the report, detailing how the $428 billion Lockheed Martin program has produced an aircraft with 873 software vulnerabilities, as well as 13 “must-fix” issues impacting safety and combat capability. “Misalignments” and cracked mounts have also resulted in at least one version of the plane being incapable of even shooting straight.

“Although the program office is working to fix deficiencies, new discoveries are still being made, resulting in only a minor decrease in the overall number” of flaws year over year, leaving “many significant‘’ ones left to resolve, the DOD assessment said.

None of these problems have slowed down orders for the plane, development of which is now considered one of the most expensive weapons programs in history. All told, the full program is expected to cost U.S. taxpayers somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 trillion over its 55-year lifespan.

According to a recent study out of Brown University, America has spent more than $6.4 trillion since 2001 on “forever wars”; conflicts that often have ambiguous, ever-shifting, unfulfilled, and often contested goals, yet somehow routinely enjoy bottomless budgets approved by unskeptical lawmakers. The annual U.S. defense budget ($686.1 billion in 2019) is more than the defense budgets of China, Saudi Arabia, India, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and Germany—combined.

Instead of spending $435 billion on a hackable plane that can’t shoot straight, America could have spent that money on:

Bringing fiber optic internet to every home in America

For years the United States has thrown untold billions at telecom giants like AT&T and Comcast in exchange for a rotating crop of jobs and broadband promises that, time and time again, mysteriously never arrive. The result: some of the highest prices and slowest speeds in the developed world.

A 2012 report by Goldman Sachs suggested it would cost America roughly $140 billion to bring a fiber optic line to every home in America, permanently freeing the entire country from Comcast’s grasp. Those estimates have dropped in recent years, with one recent report suggesting it would cost as little as $14 billion if fiber was included alongside highway builds.

Patching the broken U.S. healthcare system

The U.S.’s terrible telecom market pales in comparison to U.S. healthcare, which routinely ranks among the worst in the developed world. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, U.S. healthcare costs ballooned to $3.5 trillion in 2017 alone—$10,739 per person.

Estimates to repair our often tragic healthcare system vary dramatically, but there’s countless areas where the F-35’s $435 billion budget could have paid huge dividends.

For example, the F-35 budget could have easily paid for a year of U.S. mental health care, estimated to cost the U.S. $238 billion. It could also fund research into raging, poorly understood pandemics like Lyme Disease, which receives a tiny fraction ($31 million) of the annual research money earmarked for countless, often ridiculous military projects.

Repairing America's crumbling infrastructure

Nearly 235,000—or roughly 38 percent of all U.S. bridges—are in dire need of replacement or repair according to a recent study by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association. The group estimates that it would cost somewhere around $171 billion to repair all of them.

The $787 billion 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) professed to address some of the nation’s problems with a record $8 billion earmarked for the nation’s railways, nowhere near the amount needed to even begin dreaming about a U.S. high speed rail system, the baseline nationwide budget for which is estimated to be somewhere around $500 billion.

Fixing poverty

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) doled out an estimated $2.3 trillion in tax breaks for giant corporations in exchange for little to nothing. A small fraction of that money could have all but eliminated poverty across the United States, with a healthy chunk of change left over to contribute to America’s affordable housing crisis.

There were 5.7 million poor families with children living in poverty according to the 2016 census. One 2017 estimate suggests it would take $11,400 per family—or $65 billion in total—to nudge these families over the poverty line. Another 2012 estimate suggested that poverty could be eliminated for somewhere around $175 billion, more than covered by the F-35’s bloated budget.

Abolishing student loan debt

A 2018 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York indicated that 44.7 million Americans held roughly $1.47 trillion in student loan debt. Another Federal Reserve study indicated that the average student loan payment is somewhere between $200 and $300 per month, increasingly spent on degrees from predatory universities that often aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

Bumping the rate at which we tax billionaires would certainly fix the problem easily, though so would sending the entire lemon-esque F-35 program to the junkyard and spending the predicted $1.5 trillion cost on nobler pursuits.

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The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday proposed a new $750 billion infrastructure spending bill that earmarks $55 billion for the nation’s railways, $30 billion for airport infrastructure improvements, $20 billion for the nation’s harbors, $50 billion for cleaner water, and $98 billion to expand broadband coverage.

Like so many efforts, the project is likely to face an impasse in the largely gridlocked Senate, with ample pearl clutching over how we’re to pay for these basic societal essentials.

While a valid question, such consternation is routinely absent when it comes to assessing the waste and fraud inherent in America’s bottomless military budget, or the country’s multi-generational obsession with throwing untold trillions at corporations in exchange for hype, bluster, and a parade of empty promises.

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