[FoRK] "Two faces of the Tea Party"

J. Andrew Rogers andrew at ceruleansystems.com
Thu Jun 24 15:53:51 PDT 2010

On Jun 24, 2010, at 2:06 PM, Reese wrote:
> How much money do you think has been spent on the F-22 and other
> stealth toys that haven't really been needed since oh, 1989?

A completely new and very advanced aircraft platform that averaged a fraction of a percent of the DoD budget? It was intended to replace an old and increasingly obsolete class of aircraft. The US has a long history of letting its weapon systems slip into obsolescence. After getting bitten by that repeatedly, they've taken a more proactive approach in the last half-century or so.

> The Osprey program,

Ignoring that this was again a very tiny fraction of the DoD budget, it was great engineering R&D. This has been a longstanding unsolved design problem that several countries have attempted to solve unsuccessfully. From an engineering standpoint, it is in most ways a completely new class of aircraft so the early implementations were going to be less reliable than types of aircraft that have had several decades to have the kinks worked out.

> or the development, manufacture, and maintenance
> of both tactical and ballistic nuclear weapons?

Development and manufacture?  The US has been dismantling these for a long time and currently has considerably fewer than Russia. The US hasn't produced a new design in ages. Are you suggesting that we do away with nuclear weapons altogether? It *is* necessary to do maintenance on these things.

> That doesn't even touch on the expense of maintaining overseas
> bases

Sure, but that's more of a State Department issue.

> or failed programs like SDI.

SDI was a failed program in what way? A spectacular amount of new technology came out of that, almost every modern weapon system is heavily based on it. Outside of some new rocket motor designs that are still a bit dodgy -- no one understood the physics of such designs when they started that project -- the other bits are basically completed and in many cases deployed. Were you expecting spaceships and "pew-pew" weapons?

> And there is more, I'm sure.
> That's just off the top of my head.

There are two problems.  First, the programs you mentioned add up to a drop in the DoD budget bucket.  Second, you somehow managed to single out the successful programs while managing to ignore many that really were a monumental waste of money.

If you tally *all* R&D programs -- good, bad, or otherwise -- it is a small percentage of the total DoD budget.  They spend more on diesel and jet fuel than they do on research, hence why they spend a lot of research dollars on things like reducing fuel requirements.

It goes against a popular narrative, but most of DoD spending is operational, not weapons R&D. You could cut the R&D and new weapons to zero and it would barely make a dent.  On top of that, it would be stupid to cut it to zero because these new systems are usually designed to dramatically reduce operational expenses in a way that recovers the development cost over the service life. 

The only way to save any significant money at DoD is to reduce the number of personnel required. I leave it as an exercise to the reader as to how that can be achieved.

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