Morning Read: Budget Cuts Might Keep F-35s Out of Vermont | Off Message

Morning Read: Budget Cuts Might Keep F-35s Out of Vermont

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For the last few months, Vermonters have been arguing over whether the Air Force should bring its new F-35 fighter jets to Burlington International Airport. 

Anyone following the debate should take a few minutes to read the F-35 story in this morning's New York Times ("Costliest Jet, Years in Making, Sees the Enemy: Budget Cuts") The Times does a thorough review of the F-35 project, which is facing increased scrutiny as we approach the fiscal cliff.

Why? Because each jet is now expected to cost up to $137 million to build. According to the NYT:

The jets would cost taxpayers $396 billion, including research and development, if the Pentagon sticks to its plan to build 2443 by the late 2030s. That would be nearly four times as much as any other weapons system and two-thirds of the $589 billion the United States has spent on the war in Afghanistan. The military is also desperately trying to figure out how to reduce the long-term costs of operating the planes, now projected at $1.1 trillion.

That's a chunk of change. Here's another eye-popping number: 24 million. That's how many lines of code are required to make these planes work. And they're not all "secured and tested" yet. The new general who's about to begin overseeing the project calls that "the gorilla in the room." 

But there's more to the story than raw numbers. The Times explains how and why the F-35 was approved, and details the quagmire the project has become since Lockheed-Martin won the contract to produce the jets in 2001. Here's another telling passage:

Mr. Stevens, the Lockheed chief executive, said military programs bog down in many layers of auditing, a process he described as “sclerosis in the system.” In World War II, he said, “We managed to either invent or refine jet propulsion, nuclear weapons, radar, radio communication, electronics in three years and eight months.” In that time today, he said, the Pentagon cannot even finish the initial design of a system.

Ouch.

The bottom line? The F-35s won't come to Vermont unless they get built in the first place, and it's not at all clear whether that will happen. Stay tuned!

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