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September 24, 2010

"Babs Knows Best" on Defense: C17 Edition

"The way you should approach the military budget is to decide what is our biggest threat and what we need to meet that threat," Boxer said. "I've decided that my guide will be the admirals and generals who ask for the funding. "

- Senator Barbara Boxer

When it comes to defense spending, Barbara Boxer is all over the map.

For decades the California senator proudly reminded voters of her vocal opposition to military intervention and "wasteful and unnecessary defense spending". But changing times demand changing methods. With her job security threatened by opponent Carly Fiorina, Boxer is singing a decidedly different tune:

During the first two weeks of the August congressional recess, Boxer visited a veterans hospital in Palo Alto to tout a new mental health unit, held a public event with Japanese American World War II veterans, spoke at the delivery ceremony of the 201st C-17 cargo plane and attended a groundbreaking at a child-care center at Vandenberg Air Force Base where she announced her participation in a new Senate caucus focusing on military families.

...That emphasis stands in contrast with some of her past races.

Boxer began her political career as an anti-war activist and endeared herself to core Democratic voters with her advocacy against the first Gulf War and her vote against the invasion of Iraq, which she has described as her "proudest moment." In her 1992 campaign, a year when she advocated chopping defense spending in half, her television ads highlighted how she had exposed pricey purchases by the Pentagon in the mid-1980s that included $7,622 coffee pots.

In the 1990s Boxer campaigned on her record of eliminating "wasteful" defense spending from the budget. Military might, she maintained, was not the key to a strong national defense. Changing times demanded drastic cuts to the defense budget and the redirection of American tax dollars to domestic programs:

"If we cannot take care of our children, it doesn't matter how many tanks or missiles we have; we won't be a strong nation," Boxer said in an interview.

This is hardly a surprising position for a progressive from California, but it begs the question: why does a Senator who vehemently opposed the use of military power for decades want to force taxpayers to buy an enormously expensive cargo plane the military neither wants nor needs?

Defense review after defense review has concluded that continuing production and purchases of the C17 are not justified. In 2005, the Mobility Capability Study deemed 180 of the $250 million dollar cargo planes sufficient to meet the military's needs with an acceptable amount of risk. That goal was reached years ago, but Congress - mindful of the value of federal tax dollars to defense contractors in their home states - had other ideas.

Currently the Air Force has 205 C17s and funding is already approved to build even more planes the Air Force hasn't asked for and doesn't want.

FY2010’s ten C-17’s help explain why. The Pentagon did not want these aircraft or their $2.5 billion cost. In fact, Congress forced them back into the Pentagon’s budget over Secretary Gates’ objection, and is poised for a repeat this year.

So much for Boxer's promise to be guided by the needs of the military and the budget requests of military leaders! If we accept Boxer's argument that military force is the wrong way to keep America safe, why should taxpayers spend billions of dollars on an unwanted and unneeded defense program? Ironically, this program seems like a perfect example of the kind of wasteful and unnecessary defense spending Ms. Boxer has always opposed.

There is little doubt that government spending is out of control, nor that the Department of Defense will have to absorb its share of budget cuts while fighting two wars. We are asking our armed forces to do more with less money and equipment. Now more than ever, every dollar counts and unlike the cancellation of other programs the military has actually requested, putting an end to C17 acquisitions would result in significant savings:

Delaying production of the LCC and canceling the CG(X) would probably not “equal a big cost savings,” said Laicie Olson, a defense analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, since it is unclear how much replacing those systems with different ones would cost. But ending the C-17, manufactured by Boeing, would be a “huge cost saving,” she said, representing an estimated $2.5 billion — that is, if the administration can persuade Congress to stop authorizing the purchase of a plane that provides about 30,000 jobs in more than 40 states.

Perhaps some of these savings could be put to use to build something the Air Force actually wants - desperately needed replacements for its aging fleet of tankers:

The Air Force has been trying for more than a decade to start buying aircraft to replace its fleet of KC-135 tankers, which the service has been flying for over 50 years.

The real question here is: who is best able to assess the needs of the armed forces - a Democratic Senator from California, or the military professionals whose job it is to defend this country? Barbara Boxer thinks she knows the answer to that question. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with listening to the generals.

Posted by Cassandra at September 24, 2010 08:18 AM

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Boxer makes money off of military contracts, personally. By pinching military costs down, she gets to prevent contracts from being given out to competitors. If she cannot control it to that extent, she can still get kickbacks and bribes to allow government contracts to 'flow' to the right people.

She's still in power precisely because people thought for the longest time around that she was going by ideology and party loyalty. Her ideology is more about what benefits herself than anything else.

The whole story about Democrats voting Democrat and Republicans voting Republicans, so there's no difference in either and a pox on both their houses, served as cover for Boxer and others like her. To gain and maintain political power.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at September 25, 2010 01:34 PM

Ironically, this program seems like a perfect example of the kind of wasteful and unnecessary defense spending Ms. Boxer has always opposed claimed to oppose.

There, I fixed that part...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at September 25, 2010 08:27 PM

My strike-through html didn't work...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at September 25, 2010 08:28 PM

I am going to have to take a bit of an exception to the idea of have enough C-17s or even too many. The heavy lift aircraft currently flying are being used at an operational tempo significantly higher than they would during peacetime. Supporting our troops in the Middle East and Afghanistan is wearing them out far (perhaps as much as 3-5 times) faster than envisioned or planned for. When the last C-17 roles off the line, the line closes and then no more - ever. What will you replace the worn out aircraft with? You can't fight a war if you can't get there. The Air Force brass NEVER wants to buy transport aircraft. They were against the C130Js, too remember. The brass want sexy fighter types and in a pinch, bombers and will fight tooth and nail to fund those types of aircraft in lieu of other useful types (the A10 has been scheduled for retirement several times because it is slow and uncool or so they claimed - effective as heck though!). The US military needs more C17s just to keep the production line open, if nothing else. It also needs other types of logistical support infrastructure (Gator Navy types, trucks, C130Js,etc) or it will be relegated to a geographically limited area and cease to be global in nature. Last point, you'll never get very far in life believing what the political appointees in the Pentagon tell you. Just my two cents worth.

Posted by: Barry at September 25, 2010 10:28 PM

What will you replace the worn out aircraft with?

If Babs is spreading so much lucre around, why aren't defense contractors designing and producing new aircraft cargo haulers.

The answer is, it's easier and leasier to produce older models than to invest in things that take real creativity and talent. That's the hall mark of monopolized business-government relationships.

Defense spending can't be too high, else it would bolster America's strength and Democrats refuse to tolerate that. But at the same time, it can't be too low or otherwise favored Democrat companies and execs won't be getting their cut.

Monopolized businesses. Yeah, the monopoly produces "some things" we might consider necessary and useful. But real free market competition would have produced it more efficiently, at far less cost, and they would have added improvements to it as well.

It's kind of obvious that when the Democrats want more money so that they can loot America for more stuff, they go right to the military as their petty cash drawer. So that tends to create the tendency for military spending allocation to favor combat power over other things that they find harder to "justify".

Even a Leftist living in lalaland knows that bombs drop from jets. So they can maybe see a reason for jets (to protect their estates, that is, nothing else, from the mob) but you start going on about "logistics" and the whole bureaucracy goes into feeding mode.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at September 25, 2010 11:39 PM

The Air Force brass NEVER wants to buy transport aircraft.

The AF did a bit of accounting magic in the '90s to divert funding to the Future Fighter (now the F-22). It accelerated the retirement of the C-141 fleet, thereby saving on allocated fuel and maintenance budgeting, then assigned each new C-17 to three organizations, one Active, one Guard, and one Reserve -- each squadron painted its logo on the aircraft, and each squadron flew (and maintained) the same aircraft on a rotating basis. Then the AF claimed that, since each C-17 squadron already had its allotted number of aircraft -- although each squadron only "owned" any particular C-17 for four months out of the year -- the funding previously obligated toward additional C-17s would be better-utilized for fighter R&D and procurement.

The AF desperately tried to give the A-10 to the Army -- minus the gun *and* the ammunition, fuel and maintenance allocations -- all through the '90s because "It can't shoot down MiGs."

Just mount an AMRAAM on each C-17's wingtip -- the AF brass will be *screaming* that they need more C-17s.

Posted by: BillT at September 26, 2010 03:49 AM

hmmm KC-135 needs replacing? It was built yes, from the Boeing 707 airliner but the mil ver of that was called the C-135, tanker version being KC-135. So if you need a tanker, why not a KC-17?

I'm just an ignorant retired dogfaced commo puke so I really don't see the big deal in converting a few on the assembly line to the new role and also figure that'll keep em from buying Airbus

Posted by: TIm O'Reilly at September 26, 2010 08:04 AM

I'm nowhere near knowledgeable enough about cargo planes or tankers to argue the relative merits of various models :)

What struck me about this story was that, right or wrong, I think the services ought to be the ones to decide what they want/need.

Having watched that process from the Marine Corps side, I'm not certain the services are always wise or always make the absolute best decisions. What I do think, though, is that in general I tend to trust the services to know more about their own needs and relative priorities than a Congresswoman who is championing a particular program that just happens (!) to benefit her constituents :p

Posted by: Cassandra at September 26, 2010 08:16 AM

What I do think, though, is that in general I tend to trust the services to know more about their own needs and relative priorities than a Congresswoman who is championing a particular program...

In general, as long as you can keep the generals with an agenda on a short leash, you're absolutely correct.

Generally speaking, of course...

Posted by: BillT at September 26, 2010 09:14 AM

Here's one reason why the AF doesn't want more transports--the Congressional funding of the building of the planes doesn't match the Congressional funding of the upkeep (pilots, crews, maintenance, fuel, etc.). I guarantee you that if the funding was complete, and without forcing the AF to cut back in other areas, they would accept the planes without any fuss.

Posted by: Rex at September 26, 2010 09:47 AM

Yeah, the AF tried to get rid of hte A-10's back in the 1980's, but then along came Desert Storm/Desert Shield and CAS (close air support) became sexy again. You don't hear about the AF wanting to get rid of A-10's anymore.

Posted by: Rex at September 26, 2010 09:49 AM

I wish that writers would stop with the coffee pot thing already. It wasn't a coffee pot. What it was was a heater for in-flight meals and beverages that had to be able to heat a complete meal from storage temperature to serving temperature in about one minute. And it had to do a bunch at the same time; I mean, we're not just talking pilots and crew here, we're talking all the embarked troops being transported across the Atlantic. And it has to be safe in the event of a sudden cabin de-pressurization.

But because it also heated coffee, it was called a coffee pot by anti-military journalists and politicians.

Posted by: Rex at September 26, 2010 09:53 AM

And it has to be safe in the event of a sudden cabin de-pressurization.

It also had to be built to withstand a 20G impact so it didn't tear loose from the C-5A's rear bulkhead and turn into a 500-pound projectile ripping through the cargo/passenger compartment.

Posted by: BillT at September 26, 2010 11:06 AM

When you let peasants (the people) and subordinates (the military) decide what they want and need, you have robbed Ms. Boxer. She doesn't get to show off her new Botox treatment.

Shame on you.

Posted by: Cricket at September 26, 2010 11:29 AM

That kind of knowledge is precisely why it's usually better to allow the services to make these kinds of decisions than Congress :p

If there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's that most issues are far more complex than they seem on the surface and often the amount of information required to fully understand an issue exceeds the amount of attention most folks are willing to pay to said issue.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 26, 2010 11:30 AM

I remember an episode of The West Wing (back when I still watched it when it was on). Christian Slater had a role in a few episodes as a Naval officer (guess some sort of WH liaison?). He got into a discussion with some female character about $500 hammers or whatever. He demonstrates why the military has to pay more for things by breaking a glass ashtray or some such that was "Navy issue". Instead of shattering into hundreds of tiny shards, it breaks into only a few large pieces. He explains WHY having things of a higher quality are necessary for the environments within which some things are used (such as glass objects used on ships in rough seas that might take unintended trips to the deck...). Just a simpler example of the "$7000 coffee pot" story as illuminated by Rex & Mr. Bill...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at September 26, 2010 01:22 PM

The $500 hammer was another "invention" having its origin thusly: a generator with installation kit was listed under a single stock number, with a unit cost of $3,000. The generator was the pricey item, at $2,989, and there were five items in the installation kit -- a grounding rod, a cable, two alligator clips, and a mallet.

Divide the unit price of $3,000 by the six items in the unit and you wind up with a $500 hammer...

Posted by: BillT at September 26, 2010 01:58 PM

But take comfort in knowing that the low-bidder usually gets the contract in the military procurement world. When the Green Machine (the Army, not the football team) decided to replace the venerable C-ration with the MRE, the manufacturer proudly placed its label on the front of the package.


Not the automaker, the pet food maker...

Posted by: BillT at September 26, 2010 02:10 PM

...my favorite was "Chicken or Turkey Loaf.

You had to wonder about it when the people who *made* it weren't real sure what was in it.

Posted by: BillT at September 26, 2010 02:14 PM

"hmmm KC-135 needs replacing? It was built yes, from the Boeing 707 airliner but the mil ver of that was called the C-135, tanker version being KC-135. So if you need a tanker, why not a KC-17?"

That's waaaay bigger than what the Air Force is looking for... they are wanting something more like a 767. A C-17 could just about have its own refinery on board.

As for the construction of the C-17, let me give you a bit of info as something of an insider, ahem. The C-17 is built by Boeing *in Long Beach, California*, in the last remaining remnant of the once-mighty McDonnell-Douglas assembly plant (the C-17 was a McDac project prior to the merger). It is the only aircraft still being built in Long Beach, and it's no secret that Boeing will close that plant once the C-17 goes out of production.

Why? Because California has spent the past 40 years doing its absolute damndest to chase the aerospace industry out of the state with torches and pitchforks. Between the outrageous taxes and regulation, and the out-and-out attacks on the industry by the Hollywood types, the engineers have gotten the message... California doesn't want their type of people around. The industry which was once such a part of the huge California success story has set sail for greener pastures. Kansas, Texas, Alabama, and South Carolina have been among the beneficiaries. If there is ever a follow-up to the C-17, and Boeing wins the contract, it will likely be built in Charleston.

The aerospace biz is chock-loaded with the type of high-paying, high-skill jobs that government types keep saying they want. This light bulb seems to have lit, dimly, for Boxer. She's noticing that more business-friendly states have made off with most of the California aerospace industry. The combined Boeing/McDonnell-Douglas/Rockwell empire once had about 30 facilities in California. Now it's down to three, and one of them is only still there as long as the C-17 is still alive. However, when that program ends, there's a good chance those most of people won't lose their jobs -- they'll just take transfers to Seattle, or Dallas, or St. Louis or Huntsville. None of which are in California last I checked. As long as California wants to continue to export good jobs, then Washington and Texas and Missouri and Alabama will be happy to take them.

As a foot soldier in the Empire, I hate to see the C-17 program end. It really is a fine aircraft, with unmatched capabilities by any transport ever produced. But I also recognize political and fiscal realities. Boeing tried to market a commercial version of the C-17 a few years ago, but there wasn't quite enough interest to launch it then, and there definitely won't be in the current economy. But the message to Mssrs. Boxer is: Words and actions have consequences, sometimes far-reaching. But usually predictable. So don't say that, back in 1992, we didn't tell you so. Because we did. But you weren't listening then, and you aren't really listening now.

Posted by: Cousin Dave at September 27, 2010 12:03 AM

I think Kris Kristofferson once told Jon Peters, "Anytime I need any @#$% from you, I'll just squeeze your head." That's what the suffering citizens of California have gotten from Baghdad Barbara Boxer.

We've sent some doozies to the Senate. George Murphy was a good song and dance man in the 1930's Hollywood movies and proved to be just okay as a Senator from California. John Tunney went to Washington as a California Senator in the early 70's and spent most of his time drinking, womanizing and running around with a young Ted Kennedy. Senator S.I. Hayakawa was pretty much harmless except for a tendency to fall asleep on the Senate floor a lot.

But Babs is positively toxic. She needs to (be)retire(d) in November.

Posted by: Mike Myers at September 27, 2010 11:36 AM

Hopefully Babs, aka Senator Barbie, will go away after November. It seems like she has been in office for centuries. Her only competition for idiot of the century in California/national politics is Nancy Pelosi.

Posted by: Mark at September 30, 2010 01:18 PM

Since that 2005 report was published saying 180 C-17s were sufficient things changed. It was in 2006 that a C-17A of the 172d AW achieved the 1,000,000th flight hour of the C-17 fleet. A full year before the fleet was expected to reach that milestone. Right there tells you how much use the C-17s have been getting. Another thing to remember is 180 C-17s were expected to replace 200+ C-141s so the USAF was painting itself into a corner since one plane can only be in one spot at one time even if it can haul more cargo. So 220 airplanes in the long run might not seem enough. Especially if the C-5 fleet rebuild falls apart and those airframes get retired early.

While Boxer tries to keep the last airplane factory in California open, the DoD and USAF should re-evaluate that 2005 study to see if they still stand by those conclusions. Let reality make the call and not Boxer.

Posted by: Anna Puma at October 1, 2010 06:46 AM

She said 'reality' and 'Boxer' in one sentence.


Posted by: DL Sly at October 1, 2010 08:07 AM

Another reason military components are pricy is MilSpec. The smallest fastener used on an aircraft must be certified to MilSpecs, which means that particular batch has to be tested and certified, and that costs money. The same component, not tested, is sold in a hardware store for a fraction of the price, and even though it is identical to its MilSpec cousin, use it on an aircraft and face a court martial. Use it on an aircraft that suffers a mishap, even if it is not related to the event, spend a long time at Leavenworth as an E-1 before you get out with no retriement benefits.

Posted by: Steve Skubinna at October 4, 2010 08:31 AM