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The Fighter Jet Than Can Only Fly Through Congress

Lockheed, the Senator and the F-22

by WINSLOW WHEELER

In a stunning new report on the F-22, GAO recommends no further funding for the aircraft until DOD provides a relevant justification. GAO also points out that the Air Force’s “cost saving” plan for a “multiyear procurement” will actually cost additional money. Meanwhile, as the Senate has been debating the 2007 defense budget, Lockheed has been giving Capitol Hill advice and direction – most welcome in Senator Chambliss’ office – on how it should be legislating on the F-22.

GAO recommendations and findings are rarely articulated clearly; often readers need to read the full report carefully and often between the lines. As someone who worked at GAO for nine years, let me try to explain:

In its new, June 20, letter report on the F-22 fighter to Congressman Bill Young, R- FL, Chairman of the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, GAO states on p. 3:

“The value of this planned investment in modernization [purchasing F-22s beyond the 122 already paid for] is highly questionable absent a new business case that supports the minimum capability-based need, given credible current and future threats, and that considers various options that are both affordable and sustainable over time.”

And, later on p. 6,

“…it is highly questionable whether it is prudent to continue in the current path proposed by the Air Force.”

Finally, the recommendation on p. 7 reads,

”…we recommend that Secretary of Defense [sic.] delay further investments in F-22A procurement and modernization until [DOD] completes a comprehensive business case analysis that adequately considers alternatives, justifies the need for further investments, and reconciles the numbers of F-22As that are needed (i.e. based on credible current and future threats and considering other alternative approaches) as well as affordable and sustainable (i.e., based on current and expected DOD resource levels).”

GAO management would be horrified at my more stark characterization, but what this report is really saying is that

* DOD is unable to justify more F-22s;

* There is no current or future threat to warrant them, and

* They not affordable.

And, there’s more: the “multiyear” procurement plan the Air Force and Lockheed are advertising as saving money and are pushing hard on Capitol Hill will not save money, and it will delay the program. According to GAO on p. 7, “Therefore, the total additional multiyear procurement cost is $1.724 billion. Furthermore, it will add two years to the F-22A procurement program.”

Further, the Air Force seeks to add back into the program the air-to-ground capability that it claimed last year it was stripping out to save money. On p. 1, GAO points out, “However, the Air Force now plans to add a more robust ground attack and intelligence gathering capability not previously envisioned but now considered ‘necessary’ to increase the utility of the aircraft.” The cost, GAO says, will be and additional $4.4 billion between now and 2011.

Finally, GAO finds that the F-22 fails to technically qualify for the multiyear procurement plan the Air Force and Lockheed seek. On p. 5, GAO evaluates each of the six criteria and finds that the program fails on five. On the last criteria, whether the program will “promote the national security of the United States,” GAO offers the most devastating comment of the entire report, “No observation.” Put simply, given a chance to offer an assessment whether the F-22 – at any cost – would help protect America, GAO chose to pass. The very normal thing for GAO to do would be to quote what DOD or the Air Force asserts and leave it at that. In this case, however, GAO tacitly declined, implying – at least to this former GAO evaluator – that the agency could not stomach simply regurgitating official pabulum.

This GAO report is an interesting precursor to realities on Capitol Hill, where mega-corporations like Lockheed-Martin, the F-22s producer, continue to reign supreme – the dual Duke Cunningham and Jack Abramoff lobbying scandals (and subsequent congressional “reform”) notwithstanding.

Lockheed drafted an “F-22A WP Multiyear” information sheet to lobby in favor of the multiyear procurement plan. The sheet has been widely circulated on Capitol Hill; it is electronically dated (June 12, 2006).

Only days later some Lockheed’s same language miraculously appeared in an amendment to be introduced by Senator Saxby Chambliss, R. – GA, who represents the F-22’s final assembly plant in Marietta, GA. This amendment is electronically dated June 15, 2006.

Now read at the bottom of the Lockheed information sheet the important and operative part of the legislative language “recommended” by Lockheed to lock in the multiyear procurement: “…the Secretary of the Air Force may, in accordance with section 2306b of Title 10, United States Code, enter into.”

Now read the language of the Chambliss amendment: “The Secretary of the Air Force may, in accordance with section 2306b of title 10, United States Code, enter into.”

The only difference is some of the capitalization. (Beyond Chambliss’ direct lifting of this Lockheed language, the balance of the text of the amendment as regurgitated by Chambliss splits the multiyear procurement between that for the aircraft and that for its engine, which Lockheed’s combines into one subsection.)

It is further revealing that the text of the Chambliss amendment, as distributed by Lockheed, is a version that has not yet been formally introduced in the Senate and made available to the public. As one who worked in the Senate over three decades, I was surprised not to see the handwritten notations of the Senate clerk and the Senate amendment number – applied to all amendments once they are actually introduced – on what Lockheed is spreading around. Clearly, Chambliss’ office decided to share the final text of the [Lockheed] language with Lockheed before it was shared with the rest of the Senate and the public.

Is this evidence of collusion between Lockheed and Senator Chambliss? Surely not. Most probably, it was only telepathy.


Winslow T. Wheeler is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information and author of The Wastrels of Defense. Over 31 years, he worked for US Senators from both political parties and the Government Accountability Office on national security issues. He can be contacted at: winslowwheeler@comcast.net.