Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What Costs More, One Airplane Or a Country?

By Tom Kando

The B-2 stealth bomber is America’s fanciest, most advanced and most expensive weapon. Like The Starship Enterprise, it possesses a cloaking device which makes it practically invulnerable to attack by Klingons or by anyone else. Trouble is, there isn’t much use for it.

It cost the Air Force $2.1 billion to build one B-2, plus half a billion or so to maintain, upgrade and repaint each, including a periodic $60 million paint job and an $800 million dollar upgrade job (Sacramento Bee, June 14). Let’s say that the B-2 program cost about $50 billion. The Air Force built 21 B-2s, but one crashed in Guam in 2008. Oops! A $2.5 billion mishap.Here are some stunning comparisons:

1. Universities: The California State University system educates over 400,000 students for $5 billion a year, i.e. the cost of two B-2s. The University of California, including some of the best public research Universities in the world (Berkeley, UCLA): 19 billion, for 200,000 students, the greatest medical schools in the world, research by dozens of Nobel laureates, the Lawrence Livermore lab, the Los Alamos nuclear research facility and much more.

2. Aircraft Carrier: The Ronald Reagan, perhaps our most state-of-the-art aircraft carrier, cost $6.2 billion to build. The price of three B-2 bombers.

3. Gross National Products: Of the world’s roughly 200 countries, 110 have GDPs (Gross Domestic Products) smaller than the B-2 program. Think of countries like Bulgaria, the Dominican Republic, Tunisia and Guatemala, countries with populations between of 10 to 14 million.

30 countries have GDPs smaller than the price of one B-2. For example Guyana, Belize, Sierra Leone, countries with populations of 1 to 5 million.

4. Cities: Chicago’s budget this year is $6 billion, i.e. the price of three B-2 bombers. Houston’s is $4 billion - two such airplanes.

Each civilization has its own way of squandering its wealth. The Egyptians and the Mayans built pyramids, the Romans built the Colosseum and Saint Peter, the Chinese built a wall, the French built Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower.

Maybe we should look at the B-2 bomber as America’s great historical work of art...

...Because as a weapon, it is utterly useless. We are told that it evades radar, slips behind enemy lines and knocks out their defenses. It is said to have been useful in Kosovo, in Iraq and in Afghanistan, where it flew in to clear out enemy radar before other fighters and bombers went in. But in Kosovo the enemy was practically defenseless, and in the Middle East, most of the bombing is done by conventional bombers. Most of the time, the B-2s are parked in hangars. They require 55 hours of ground maintenance for each one hour of flight!

True, the bomber is an excellent money maker and job creator for Northrop, (Palmdale, CA), which built it between 1988 and 1997, employing 40,000 people. But the technology is already obsolete. The enemy already has ways to expose the B-2 on radar screen. In today’s “asymmetrical” warfare against low-tech enemies, this $50 billion boondoggle is already practically useless. leave comment here