Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Rumsfeld's DOD hasn't exactly been known as a model of efficiency, but this is absurd

The stories are the same in the print and online editions, but today's NYT saved the dramatic price tag graphics for the print edition, where they screamed at the reader from above the fold of the business section article on skyrocketing weapons procurement costs. However you illustrate it, this is ridiculous:
When it was planned 19 years ago, the F-22A was an ambitious project by any measure. It was to fly invisibly, at supersonic speeds and with the latest in avionics and engines. All this was to counter Soviet threats in air-to-air combat. Initially, the Air Force had planned to spend $82 billion and buy 648 planes.

Since then, the Soviet threat ended and the F-22A encountered numerous cost overruns and schedule delays. The Air Force also added new requirements so the jet could also conduct bombing missions — even though some critics question the feasibility of using an expensive fighter jet that flies at nearly twice the speed of sound to attack ground targets.

In the end, the F-22A is costing nearly twice as much per plane as planned, and the Air Force is getting only one-quarter the number it had initially sought. The cost for each plane has soared to $361 million, making it the most expensive fighter jet ever. It is still not ready for combat.
It's enough to make you wonder whether even an incompetent like FEMA's Brownie wouldn't be a better shopper than Rummy at the Pentagon.

Think about it: A botched landing in bad weather, say goodbye to $361 million. A lucky shot by an insurgent with a black market Soviet era shoulder-mounted missile, say goodbye to $361 million. A midair collision between two F-22As, say goodbye to the better part of a billion dollars.

How does this compare with the cost of previous generations of fighter planes? This Media General article gives some comparisons in 1998 dollars. Although inflation has continued since then, the relationships between the different planes' prices has probably stayed about the same.
Aircraft: P-51 Mustang (World War II)
Year entered service: 1940
Number built: 14,855
Maximum Speed: 437 mph
Original cost: $54,000
Cost in today's dollars: $599,000

Aircraft: F-86 Sabre (Korean War)
Year entered service: 1948
Number built: more than 5,500
Maximum Speed: 685 mph
Original cost: $178,000
Cost in today's dollars: $1.44 million

Aircraft: F-22 Raptor
Year entered service: 2005
Number built: 62 (183 anticipated)
Maximum speed: more than 1,300 mph
Original cost: $133 million
Cost in today's dollars: $133 million
In other words, one F-22A would buy at least 222 P-51s, which rolled off production lines in World War II almost like cars and helped to win the war. It would also buy nearly 100 Sabre jets. It's hard to believe that one F22A is actually that much more productive than either one -- especially as it has suffered from a lot of mission creep and would mostly be used as a bomber today, although it was originally designed to combat Soviet fighters.

It's an old, familiar story. The Brits have a lot to tell us about skyrocketing weapons system costs that helped sink an empire. In their case it was naval weapons, but air power has become today's sea power. And we don't seem to have learned much from our predecessors.

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