The late Sen. John McCain was a proponent for more military spending but was critical of the Pentagon’s priciest acquisition programs as well as defense contractors like Boeing (BA) and Lockheed Martin (LMT) cozying up to lawmakers.
As Senate Armed Services Committee chairman he pushed for increased funding for military service members and readiness. But he was a steady skeptic of big-ticket acquisition programs, and McCain didn’t hold his fire on defense programs that were over budget and behind schedule.
In 2004, he uncovered a scandal in which a top Air Force acquisition official inflated the price of a contract for a new refueling tanker while secretly negotiating for a job at Boeing. The former Air Force official and another Boeing executive went to jail. McCain said he saved taxpayers $2 billion by canceling the contract.
Boeing is still building an Air Force tanker but under a separate contract that has the company on the hook for cost overruns, which now run more than $3 billion.
Here are five other big-ticket programs that McCain criticized:
John McCain On The F-35
Lockheed’s F-35 is the priciest weapons program in history at $400 billion — and that doesn’t even include its operating and maintenance costs, which are estimated at $1.1 trillion over the lifetime of the F-35 fleet.
In 2016, McCain said the program “has been both a scandal and a tragedy with respect to cost, schedule and performance.”
And last year, he said “the F-35’s dismal record on cost, schedule and performance is a predicable consequence of a broken defense acquisition system.”
In 2014, he criticized the government’s closeness with the industry base.
“It is the kind of cronyism that should make us all vigilant against, as President Eisenhower warned us over 50 years ago, the military-industrial complex,” he said.
As F-35 production rates ramp up, unit costs have fallen for the F-35, and are reportedly down 6% year-over-year to $89 million for the conventional-landing variant. Lockheed says it’s on track to bring that down to $80 million by 2020.
John McCain On The F-22
McCain also questioned the need for Lockheed’s earlier F-22 stealth fighter as the military focused on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The program, which was canceled early due to spiraling costs that hit $79 billion, used a cost-plus contract that, like the F-35, put the Pentagon on the hook for cost overruns.
As the F-22 waited to see action in combat, McCain said the jet “may very well become the most expensive corroding hangar queens in the history of modern military aviation.”
The F-22 eventually saw combat for the first time in 2014, nearly 10 years after it was declared ready for combat, in an attack on ISIS in Syria.
Meanwhile, the Air Force is experimenting with low-cost aircraft that can provide air support in uncontested environments that don’t require cutting-edge jets that can evade radar detection.
John McCain On The B-21
Cost details about Northrop Grumman‘s (NOC) new B-21 long-range strike bomber program have been scarce as the Air Force said it doesn’t want enemies inferring the plane’s capabilities based on budget estimates.
But McCain blasted the decision.
“Why would you not want to tell the American people how you are going to spend their dollars?” McCain asked during a hearing in 2016.
He was also critical of the Air Force’s use of a cost-plus contract in the B-21. The Air Force said it used the cost-plus contract for development because of risks associated with building a completely new airframe.
The fleet of 100 new bombers are expected to cost $80 billion.
John McCain On The Littoral Combat Ship
Lockheed and a separate team made up of Australia’s Austal and General Dynamics (GD) are building littoral combat ships for the Navy.
The ships are designed to operate in coastal — or littoral — waters, where threats like small, fast-attack boats and mines are riskier for bigger ships like destroyers to repel.
But in 2016, McCain blasted the Navy for spending $12.4 billion on 26 ships. The cost per ship has nearly doubled to $478 million, and key capabilities like mine countermeasures have been delayed.
“One of the great disasters I’ve seen recently was the LCS,” he said last year.
John McCain On The USS Gerald Ford
Huntington Ingalls Industries‘ (HII) Newport News Shipbuilding finally delivered the first of its three Ford-class aircraft carriers to the Navy in 2017, some 15 months late and $2 billion over budget.
McCain said in 2015 that the program has “become, unfortunately, one of the most spectacular acquisition debacles in recent memory — and that’s saying something.”
He was a proponent of building smaller, cheaper carriers and bringing more competition to the marketplace.
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