July 21st, 2009
Lockheed Martin has purchased ad space on a number of nonpartisan, politically oriented websites, with many of the ads promoting funding for the F-22 fighter plane. Each presents some information about the company’s position and links back to a web page that makes the full case. The banner ads run in parallel with print ads in the Washington Post and in political newsletters.
When did I write those words? Not this week or last, or even this year or last — they date back to September of 1999, when Lockheed Martin was struggling to get the first production versions of the plane funded and was running ads on a couple of sites I was working on (I looked all over for a copy of the actual banner but to no avail). But they might as well have come out this week, since the F-22 Raptor is once again refusing to go gently into the darkness, at least if its corporate and congressional backers have anything to say in the matter.
And it’s turned into a fight over more than “just” a couple of billion dollors; Defense Secretary Gates and President Obama seem to view funding more of the stealthy air-superiority fighters as a test of their resolve to bring Pentagon-style pork-barrel spending under control, and a Senate vote to route enough dollars in the defense appropriation bill to build a relative handful of additional F-22s could well bring the president to exercise his first veto.
Fortunately, we in the public get to make up our own minds, and the internet of course comes charging over the hill to our rescue, cavalry-style. If you’re looking for good, clear military cases for and against building more F-22s, you can’t do better than checking out Mark Bowden’s Atlantic Monthly article arguing for more and Fred Kaplan’s very effective Slate.com response (Kaplan in a nutshell — it’s hard to imagine too many geopolitical scenarios in which our having an extra 20% of this one particular type of aircraft is going to make enough of a difference to justify the cost of building them).
For a more wide-ranging discussion, try the archived version of this morning’s Diane Rehm show, which features several experts going through most of the claims for and against expanding the F-22 fleet. A particular treat — one of the panelists kept repeating some of the more commonly heard arguments in favor of the plane, but a couple of the other folks on the show had enough experience covering the Pentagon to have run into most of them before, but for past (and always very expensive) weapons systems. First it was the (nonexistent) bomber gap, then the (nonexistent) missile gap, and now here comes a good old-fashioned fighter gap — one conveniently in the future, too, where imaginary enemies loom large. Where’s a proper mineshaft gap when we need one?