By PIERRE BIENAIMÉ
The US military is trying to reduce its size and spending as it winds down its mission in Afghanistan and attempts to pivot away from the Middle East. But there’s one multi-billion dollar factor standing in the way, for one branch of the military at least: the troubled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
From 2012 to 2013, the only American military branch not to see a 20 percent fall in contract spending obligations, which constitute about half of the total defense budget, was the Navy. Its $94 billion in obligations for the most recent fiscal year represents a dip of only 2 percent, compared to a 22% decline for the Army and a 21% drop for the Air Force.
The F-35, the often-delayed and astronomically expensive fifth-generation fighter jet, is a huge part of the reason why.
As a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies explains, the Navy is “[shifting] toward buying more products, principally the [F-35] Joint Strike Fighter.”
“Navy products contract obligations increased by 8 percent, several times the rate of growth from 2009–2012,” the report states. “Notable sources of growth included the Joint Strike Fighter program ($7.4 billion), nuclear reactors ($1.1 billion), the H-1 Upgrade program ($800 million), CVN-68 ($800 million), DDG-51 ($750 million), 6 and the E-2C Advanced Hawkeye ($500 million).”
So the F-35 represents a majority of the Navy’s major new product obligations. It’s a big reason that spending in this area is still going up, while contract spending is falling across the rest of the military.
Lockheed Martin is the top recipient of Department of Defense contracting for fiscal year 2014 as well, and its F-35 is the single most expensive project in military history.
A slew of problems and delays make the plane a potential liability for many of the US allies contributing to its design and manufacture.
In contrast, the Army has seen huge cuts in its contract obligations, which at $87 billion are smaller than the Navy’s for the first time in over ten years. The Army’s contract spending in 2008 was nearly double what it is today, perhaps a result of the surge that sent around 30,000 additional US troops to Iraq.
Despite the overall decline in this form of spending, the US military’s contract obligations in 2013 were still over $100 billion greater than in 2000 or 2001. The bump in contract spending that followed the post-9/11 “war on terror” appears to be a permanent shift even if it’s declined more recently.
Contractors cover a broad category of responsibilities ranging from research and development to hardware procurement and private security work.
Contract obligations represent roughly half of “total gross defense outlays,” according to the CSIS report. The share fell to 49 percent in 2013, the lowest total in the post-9/11 era.