By Robert Naiman
Consider the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Last year, Winslow Wheeler reported that theacquisition cost for the F-35 had risen to $379.4 billion for 2,457 aircraft. That’s just the cost to buy the planes, not to fly and maintain them. According to Wheeler, “The current appraisal for operations and support is $1.1 trillion – making for a grand total of $1.5 trillion, or more than the annual GDP of Spain.”
Assuming that everything is proportional (and that these costs don’t further escalate, which Wheeler assures us they will), if the F-35 costs $1.5 trillion for 2,457 planes, that’s $610 million per plane. How many F-35s would we have to not buy in order to spare seniors, veterans and the disabled from getting whacked? We would only have to not buy $163 billion worth, or 267 planes. That would still leave 2,190 planes. We could reduce the number of F-35s we purchase by just over 10 percent – cut one single weapons system by 10 percent – and save as much money as President Obama proposes to save by whacking seniors, veterans and the disabled.
Lastly, consider Pentagon contracting: the Project On Government Oversight notes that “every year for the last five years the Pentagon has spent more than $360 billion purchasing goods and services from contractors” and that “service contractors can cost, on average, 2.94 times more than an average Pentagon civilian employee performing the same job.”
Suppose it were true that it costs 2.9 times as much to do things through contractors as it does to use Pentagon employees. That’s a different statistic – I’m substituting an apple for an orange. We don’t actually have the numbers that we need to do the right calculation, because as POGO notes, the public doesn’t have access to contractor workforce size and cost data. But what we’re after here is just a rough sense of what Pentagon spending choices and cuts to Social Security and veterans’ benefits look like when you put them on the same scale. The actual policy choice we need to make to protect Social Security and veterans’ benefits and cut the Pentagon budget is merely to kill the grand bargain and let the sequester-level budget caps on discretionary spending stand.[…]