Two National Defense Stories. Draw Your Own Conclusions.

Story #1:

Originally slated to cost $233 billion, the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program could end up being costing more than $1.5 trillion. Which might not be so bad if the super-sophisticated next-generation jet fighter lives up to its hype. A recent report from the Defense Department’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation paints a pretty damning picture of the plane’s already well documented problems. The report makes for some pretty dense reading, but the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group that’s long criticized the F-35 program, has boiled down the major issues.

Among the biggest?

Unsafe at any airspeed? The high-tech stuff that was supposed to make the F-35 among the most advanced war machines ever built pose serious safety risks. For example: The fuel tank system “is at significant risk of catastrophic fire and explosion in combat,” according to POGO. The plane isn’t adequately protected against lightning strikes (in the air or on the ground); it’s currently prohibited from flying within 25 miles of thunderstorms. That’s a major problem for a plane training program based in the Florida panhandle…

Software bugs: The plane’s software includes more than 30 million lines of code. Problems with the code are causing navigation system inaccuracies, false alarms from sensors, and false target tracks. The operating system is so cumbersome that it requires the “design and development of a whole new set of…computers.” The software glitches also affect the plane’s ability to “find targets, detect and survive enemy defenses, deliver weapons accurately, and avoid fratricide.”

More cost overruns: Due to all the testing delays, design problems, and maintenance issues, taxpayers could be on the hook for an additional $67 billion to deploy the F-35. That’s a lot of money. Even for the US military.

Meanwhile, here’s story #2:

The US military machine spends around $600 billion a year on national defense, but somehow it couldn’t stop a Florida mailman from landing his airborne protest right on the Capitol lawn. Doug Hughes arrived in a slow-moving, light-weight gyrocopter that he flew right past all the elaborate checkpoints and high-tech security monitors. His message to members of Congress: you and your institution are utterly corrupted by political money and we, the people, are coming after you.

“I’m just delivering the mail,” the Florida postal worker said with a touch of whimsical humor. “This isn’t my regular route.”

The guardians of national security said they saw him coming on their radar screens but thought he was probably a flock of geese. Stand-up comics should have fun with that.

You might think conservative politicians would look askance at the tremendous amount of money being wasted at the Pentagon for little to no gain. But no. Better to take swimming pools away from welfare recipients instead.

Because it’s not really about the money. It’s about making sure the wrong people know their place.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.