For a month now, I've been sitting on a May 20 New York Times op-ed by two Marine officers about the benefits of the A-10 attack plane and the limitations of relying on high-tech, cheaper military solutions like the drone. The piece is headlined "The Limits of Armchair Warfare."
It's an apt title, another challenge to military reliance on automation, computer operation, and light and agile equipment, the trappings of the modern army as touted since the end of the Cold War. But it is also a challenge to the current assessment of what wars we will be fighting next or whether diplomacy can replace front-line troops on the ground, their way cleared by the low-flying reconnaissance and air support, i.e., the A-10. These planes are armored with titanium and carry a heavy 30-mm flying cannon. In 1994, each unit cost $11.8 million, which today would be about $19 million apiece. The Air Force estimates that the retirement of A-10s would save $3.7 billion.
The A-10 is meant to be replaced by the F-35, which I have called a boondoggle in these blogs. In 2013, F-35s cost up to $156 million; learning curve efficiency gains yield a projected 2020 cost of $85 million each. So at the savings of $3.7 billion, we propose to spend about a trillion dollars on this new F-35.
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The debate is lively, but only in military circles. However, nobody in the churches is saying, "If we build the weapon, we will use it" or "What will make us secure?" or "Where our treasure is, there our heart will be."
As we watch civil war unfold in Iraq, we are lamenting our many failings there, though the lists of those failings may differ. But we don't seem to take any of them into account in our budgeting process. How could we have spent that trillion dollars differently to get a different result? How might we spend the trillion dollars earmarked for the F-35 differently? Do we want to do the tasks the A-10 makes it possible for our troops to do? We need to talk.