Two prospective buyers, Canada and the Netherlands, have established firm price caps on their F-35 acquisition budgets to prevent cost blow-outs, but because costs continue to increase, the number of aircraft they will be able to buy is being constantly reduced. This also reduces their military usefulness, as the fewer the aircraft, the lower their overall operational effectiveness.
The Netherlands are an apt illustration of the dangers of such an approach. It was originally due to buy 85 F-35s, but successive Dutch governments have reduced this number to 58, which, as the Algemene Rekenkamer (AR), the independent state auditor, concluded in its Oct. 25, 2012 report, are not even enough to fulfill Dutch commitments to NATO. Nonetheless, the F-35 program will absorb half the defense ministry’s total capital expenditure budget for six years, starving other programs of funding.
The current Dutch government now simply plans to buy as many aircraft as it can with its €4 billion budget – fewer than 40, the Rekenkamer estimated. But even to afford this reduced number, it must cut most other defense spending.
The latest round of cuts, reported Sept. 5, is worth €330 million, and will entail the sale of a logistics support ship which is still being built, the scrapping of an entire Army battalion and the mothballing of six or seven more F-16 fighters.
The situation is broadly similar in Canada, where the government has placed a price cap of $8.9 billion on its F-35 acquisition budget, without being able to say how many aircraft this will buy. Yet, it is gradually becoming apparent that cuts in other parts of the defense budget will be needed to protect F-35 funding, and an Aug. 13 report in the National Post was headlined “F-35 purchase may force Conservatives to chop infantry battalion from cash-strapped military.”
And it’s really no different in the United States. Under the pressure of sequestration, the Pentagon will have to choose between a “much smaller force” or a decade-long “holiday” from modernizing its weapon systems, to quote defense secretary Chuck Hagel.
Frank Kendall, the Pentagon acquisitions chief, has already indicated that the F-35 program, and a few other top priority programs, will be protected from further cuts, but this means that “remaining programs in the procurement account would have to be cut even more than the 16% average reduction for the whole [acquisition] account,” as the Lexington Institute’s Lauren B. Thompson recently noted.
There’s more at the link.
That’s what happens when you buy a gold-plated item of equipment. You have a finite defense budget. You can either buy a lot of items that are serviceable, adequate for their purpose, and affordable; or you can buy a few items that are super-expensive and (on paper at least, but not yet operationally) super-capable. You can’t afford both options.
In July last year I wrote:
I think it’s high time the entire F-35 program was scrapped. I realize there’s no alternative on the horizon, so it may be militarily undesirable to scrap it; but I submit it’ll never be bought in the numbers desired by the USAF, USN and USMC anyway. I doubt very much if it’ll be bought in even half those numbers. It’s simply too costly.
We can no longer afford this bottomless money pit. It’s time to kill it before it drags the rest of the defense budget down with it.
I’ve seen nothing since then to make me change that opinion.
To reinforce that perspective, it looks as if European defense budgets are taking even more strain than that of the USA. Defense Talk comments:
Countries throughout the region are simultaneously seeking to achieve savings while protecting their social welfare nets, thus creating pressures on military budgets that are placing defense investment on a steady downward trajectory.
Over the four years since the peak in 2008, Europe’s combined military expenditures have slipped by a total of EUR94 billion, thus representing a 34 percent contraction in overall defense spending.
. . .
“No matter where you look in Europe, the budgetary push-pull between butter and guns inevitably falls in favor of butter,” says Forecast International’s Europe Military Markets Analyst, Dan Darling. “It is politically more expedient to be seen protecting social welfare than bolstering defense. The lack of a major strategic threat aimed at Europe weakens the argument for increasing defense spending in the public square.”
. . .
With government debt across the EU27 growing from 62.5 percent of GDP in 2008 to 92.2 percent by the end of the first quarter of 2013, it stands to reason that reversing the decline in both defense investment and manpower strength across Europe’s armies is far from a leading priority. Debt issues represent an acute problem as, for instance, Germany is spending equally on its defense budget and debt obligations over the course of 2013.
In the meantime, austerity measures in countries like the Czech Republic and Slovakia have served to strip allocations from budgets already straining to support skeletal militaries. Personnel cuts have been applied while military modernization projects have been halted, leading to smaller, less-capable forces. Flight hours are cut back, existing equipment suffers from lack of use and maintenance, training falls off, and exhausted munitions stocks are inadequately replenished.
What is left is a Europe with a shrinking, less-capable military component.
Again, more at the link.
Uh-huh . . . just like the USA, in fact. Not only is the F-35 shaping up to be a monumental boondoggle, it’s also fast becoming an internationally unaffordable boondoggle.