From Moon Landings to the F-22: How War Profiteering Dulled American’s Technical Edge

mercury projectMan first set foot on the moon on Sunday, July 20, 1969.  Generally, President John F. Kennedy is given credit for pushing exploration off this planet.  And Kennedy did push for scientific research.  He did inspire us to believe that we were capable of great things and that we had both the ability and the resources to achieve them.

But the space program had actually been started by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  The Mercury program launched eight test flights before the 1960 elections, and one more immediately following election day.  President Eisenhower wasn’t a supporter of space exploration.  But he was a general who had fought a long, tough war against a technically advanced enemy.  He believed in science, technology, and efficiency.

Eisenhower also believed in capitalism and business competition.  So contracts to design and build both the rockets and the space capsules for the Mercury program were put out to competitive bidding.  Contracts for the first rockets for use in testing Mercury systems were issued in December 1958, and the first rockets were delivered in May 1959.  Contracts to design the Mercury space capsule were issued in January 1959, and the first capsules were delivered in January 1960, less than a year later.

f-22Contrast that with the darling project of the Tea Party Republicans, the F-22 Raptor “stealth” fighter plane.  This boondoggle was first announced, in 1981, by Reagan, as a way to route billions of tax dollars, intended for defense, to war profiteers.  The sales pitch for the boondoggle claimed that the F-22 would use the latest technologies and materials, resulting in weight savings, greater efficiencies, greater pilot safety, and greater maneuverability than any previous plane.

After a decade of “planning” the first Bush administration finally approved a design, to move forward into ‘production’, in April 1991.  The design approved in 1991 was less “stealthy” and slower than competing designs, but it guaranteed fat profits to Lockheed Martin.  The design eliminated advanced avionics and even eliminated a modern, safer ejection seat for the pilot, in favor of retaining an already developed stock ejection seat used in other planes.

Working feverishly to keep America protected from the threat posed by the collapsing Soviet empire and the looming yellow hoards of China, Lockheed was able to show a production model of the plane in April 1997, a mere 6 years after the design was approved.  (Of course, the “production model” didn’t actually fly when it was shown off.  That wouldn’t happen for another 6 months.)

Having an approved design and a working model in 1997 didn’t mean that Lockheed Martin would actually build and deliver the F-22 right away.  The first production plane wasn’t delivered to the Air Force until January 7, 2003.  Perhaps the “22” in F-22 indicates that even when Reagan first announced this boondoggle of war profiteering corporate welfare, in 1981, he knew that it would be 22 years before the first plane would be delivered to the taxpayers who paid for it.

But the first plane was delivered.  Then what?  In May of this year the Pentagon announced a new ‘solution’ to problems – F-22s will only fly close to bases at which they can land in emergencies!  That’s right, the F-22 is no longer going to be a combat mission aircraft.  Rather, it will fly around military bases, where it can land quickly when it displays one of the faults designed in by Lockheed Martin.

This month, a pilot flying an F-22 on a training flight in Hawaii suffered oxygen deprivation when the plane’s oxygen system failed to operate.   The pilot was able to activate an emergency oxygen system, and get back to the ground ‘safely’.  Why did the plane have an “emergency oxygen system”?  Because the main oxygen system in the F-22 has never worked properly.

Constant problems with the F-22 oxygen system finally led to all F-22s being grounded for months in 2011.  Then the Air Force studied the problem for 7 months, but could not figure out why the system doesn’t work.  Lockheed Martin, which designed the system, can’t figure it out, even after thirty-two years of work and after raking in hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

If Lockheed Martin had been building boats at the time, the Pilgrims would never have reached Plymouth Rock on the Mayflower.

According to a March, 2012 calculation by the Government Accountability Office, the F-22 now costs $412 million per plane.  Reagan’s original, 1981 promise was that the taxpayers would get 750 F-22s for “only” $26 BILLION.  But after 32 years of raping the taxpayers, Lockheed Martin is now going to deliver only 183 planes, for a price now almost $70 BILLION.

mercuryThe original contract for the Mercury rocket program was for just over $20 MILLION.  And the contractor delivered within 6 months.  But that was in the days when a Republican President thought that the U.S. was a technology powerhouse, a dynamic nation capable of leading the rest of the world into the future.  Now we throw money at war profiteers that can’t even provide pilots with a working oxygen mask.

Since the corporate takeover of the Republican Party, the Party has abandoned all notions of competitive, free market based capitalism, and has abandoned the notion that the U.S. is a leader in anything.

Last December,  Iran captured one of our military drones.  Iran’s scientists figured out how to seize control of the unmanned drones that our military uses in foreign countries, and which Tea Party Republicans want to use against U.S. citizens here at home.

The drone captures are possible because our corporate welfare military spending doesn’t require any military contractor to use innovative or even modern technology.  Just as the F-22 can’t fly with oxygen systems as reliable as a commercial airliner, our drones have no meaningful data security.  This is a product of the same thinking that led us to give away our entire electronic industry to the Japanese in the ‘70s and ‘80s – our electronics industries were so focused on selling established and outdated technologies to the Pentagon that they completely abandoned research and development into new technologies.

In 1960, outgoing Republican President Dwight Eisenhower and incoming Democratic President John F. Kennedy agreed that the U.S. was the world’s leader in technology, in forward thinking, in imagining solutions to complex problems.  Eisenhower backed infrastructure development from the interstate highway system to laying the groundwork for roadways to the stars.  Kennedy built on Eisenhower’s promise to set us on the path to the moon landing.

Today’s Republican leaders think that all the optimistic, forward looking hopefulness of Eisenhower and Kennedy was communistic socialism.  They believe in innovation, only if it leads to the development of new ways for hedge funds to derive profits out of other people’s work.

For Eisenhower Republicans, it was a matter of pride that a company could develop a space capsule in less than a year.  For today’s Republican presidential candidate, it is a matter of pride that Bain Capital could outsource jobs ‘without’ the involvement of its sole owner, chief executive officer or managing partner.

Tom HallJuly 20, 1969 saw Republicans cheering the science and technology that Republican and Democrat and politicians had cooperated  to achieve.  July 20, 2012 sees Republicans cheering filibusters and obstruction, while deriding any technologies except those that allow Wall Street to further consolidate control of our finances and media, and the technologies that permit further restrictions on the voting rights of poor people and racial minorities.

Tom Hall

Posted: Thursday, 19 July 2012


  1. dusty says

    I forgot to mention how we are now squandering the wealth of our nation on so called national defense and the war on terror — predatory actions that gain us no defense and doom our economy and our future.  While we work toward bankruptcy the Chinese, Europeans, Russians, etc are spending a pittance on war policies — we will fall, sooner or later, as other nations that have lost their way in carrying out policies of imperialism and colonialism — projecting the empire at tremendous cost until the empire swallows the imperialists.  We can’t learn everything from history — everything changes through evolution, but we could learn a few lessons, apply them and disband the smoke and mirrors of “world domination”, American Exceptional-ism, and  the American Century.

  2. dusty says

    One of the principle economic facts that Tom Hall overlooks is this.  Once the investment has been made in a particular technology of production it is very expensive to change to newer technologies — the corporations can’t or won’t throw away billions of dollars of investments in one technology and then spend more billions investing in new science and technology as investors want profits, NOW. 

    The success stories of Germany, Japan, China, France and some others rest more in the fact that their technologies and production infrastructure were destroyed in WW2 and when they re-invested in the 50s and on wards they used the newest technologies and science available.  Too, they have social technologies such as national medical plans instead of private health insurance, better and more secure retirement plans that are rationalized across society as well as at corporations so that the wealth of their societies are better used to support the needs of their people while here we give executives large unearned salaries, benefits not available to the average worker and bonuses to boot.  

    In the latest era China has modernized in the age of computers and robot production and brought in the latest technologies as well as using their less expensive labor to garner a large share of world business.  To boot, their education system is turning out high quality graduates, scientists, and the other folk needed for a modern society while in our nation is mired in hating public education instead of nurturing it.  We starve public education while distracting the public with ignorance based reality TV, celebrity TV and non-science based fantasy, cartoon level, idiotic mass programming that glamorizes the wealthy and puts down working people as unimportant.   

  3. Brian Knowles says

    Well, we’ll be having no moon landings at all, now that Obama has outsourced NASA to the Russians…

    • Anitaccs says

      Right, but it is not Obama who stopped all the progress it is Geo.Bush’s fault…oh and the Republicans too.

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