Prophets of War
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Excerpt from Chapter One

        It is a striking ad. An intimidating combat aircraft soars in the background, with the slogan up front in all capital letters: “300 MILLION PROTECTED, 95,000 EMPLOYED.” The ad – for Lockheed Martin’s F-22 “Raptor” fighter plane – was part of the company’s last gasp effort to save one of its most profitable weapons from being “terminated,”as they say in standard budget parlance. The pro-F-22 ad has run scores of times,in print, on political web sites, and even in the Washington, DC metro.  One writer at the Washington Post joked that at a time when many companies have been cutting back on their advertising budgets, Lockheed Martin’s barrage of full page ads were the main thing keeping the paper afloat.

When an arms company starts bragging about how many jobs their pet project creates, hold onto your wallet.  It often means that they want billions of dollars worth of your tax money for a weapon that costs too much, does too little, and may not have been needed in the first place.  So it is with the Raptor, which at $350million per plane is the most expensive combat aircraft ever built.  Secretary of Defense Robert Gates suggested that the F-22 needed to be cut because even with wars raging in Iraq and Afghanistan,it has never been used in combat.  In fact, in its most daunting mission to date – flying to Japan for deployment at a U.S. air base there – the plane had technical difficulties and had to land in Hawaii, far short of its final destination.

But if Lockheed Martin insists that the Raptor’s unique capabilities more than justify its eye-popping price tag. For example, did you know that it is the “First and only 24/7/365All-Weather Stealth Fighter”?  That it has a radar signature “approximately the size of a bumblebee”? Or that it provides “first-look, first-shot, first-kill air dominance capability”?  I thought not.  But keep listening.  Lockheed Martin has a lot to say and they are serious about selling you their most profitable plane.  How else to explain the statement from the F-22 Raptor web page stating that “When we meet the enemy, we want to win100-0, not 51-49”? It is hard to take this claim seriously. The Raptor has never seen combat – and is unlikely to do so given that it was designed to counter a Soviet plane that was never built – so at best the score is zero to zero. But the statement has a grain of truth – it describes Lockheed Martin’s lobbying efforts a whole lot more accurately than their fighter plane’s mission success rate.

They may never get to 100-0support in the Senate, but as soon as there was even a whisper of a possibility that the F-22 program might be stopped at “only” 187 planes – about what the Pentagon wanted, but only half of what the Air Force and Lockheed Martin were striving for – the company started racking up big numbers on their side. By early 2009, months in advance of President Obama’s first detailed budget submission to Congress – which would decide the fate of the F-22 —- Lockheed Martin and its partners in the F-22 project (Pratt and Whitney and Boeing) had lined up 44 Senators and 200 members of the House of Representatives to sign onto a “save the Raptor” letter. Also signing the letter were 12 governors –including prominent Democrats like David Paterson of New York and Ted Strickland of Ohio– joined by R. Thomas Buffenbarger, the president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM).  The governors’ letter reads as if it was drafted by Lockheed Martin, starting off by saying “We urge you to sustain 95,000 jobs by certifying continued production of the F-22 Raptor – a defense program that is critical to our defense industrial base.” After describing it as “the world’s only operational 5thGeneration fighter” – a popular Lockheed Martin description of the Raptor – the letter returns to the jobs argument asking the president to “consider carefully the economic impact of your decision.”

          At the heart of the lobbying campaign was the mantra of “jobs, jobs, jobs” – 95,000 jobs in44 states, to be exact.  The company barely mounted an argument that the F-22 was needed to defend the country – it was there in the background, but it wasn’t the driving force.  Lockheed’s ads for the plane got more and more specific as time went on, with a series showing people at work on components of the plane with legends like “2,205 F-22 Jobs in Connecticut;”“125 Skilled Machinists in Helena, Montana;” “50 Titanium Manufacturing Jobs in Niles, Ohio;” “30 Hydraulic Systems Specialists in Mississippi”; and “SteelForgers in Chicago” [no number given].  All that was missing were ads for “Pencil Pushers, Anywhere, USA” or “132 Lobbyists, Washington, DC.”

          There was only one problem with this impressive flurry of job claims: they were fraudulent.  Utilizing standard techniques that estimate the numbers of jobs per billion generated by different kinds of economic activities, the $4 billion or so per year that the federal government was spending on the F-22 would create at most 35,000 to 40,000 jobs.  The estimating method – known as input-output analysis – measures all of the jobs involved, from directly working on the plane, to working in plants supplying components, to working in the restaurant across the street from the plant were workers spend their wages, and so on. And it clearly demonstrates that the F-22 creates less than half as many jobs as Lockheed Martin claimed in its promotional campaign.

As for those geographically specific assertions about the locations of the jobs, when pressed the company refused to provide more detailed documentation of those claims.  When a USA Today reporter asked for details on where F-22 supplier plants were, the company claimed that information on the locations of the F-22-related facilities represented proprietary information,and refused to provide it. Never mind that Lockheed Martin gets over 80% of its business from the federal government – from taxes paid by millions of Americans – when it comes to coming clean about the claims it is using to get its hands on more of our money, it’s none of our business.

Copyright © 2010 by Nation Books