The US military is trying to reduce its size and spending as it winds down its mission in Afghanistan and attempts to pivot away from the Middle East. But there’s one multi-billion dollar factor standing in the way, for one branch of the military at least: the troubled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
From 2012 to 2013, the only American military branch not to see a 20 per cent fall in contract spending obligations, which constitute about half of the total defence budget, was the Navy. Its $US94 billion in obligations for the most recent fiscal year represents a dip of only 2 per cent, compared to a 22% decline for the Army and a 21% drop for the Air Force.
The F-35, the often-delayed and astronomically expensive fifth-generation fighter jet, is a huge part of the reason why.
As a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies explains, the Navy’s “[shift] toward buying more products, principally the [F-35] Joint Strike Fighter.”
“Navy products contract obligations increased by 8 per cent, several times the rate of growth from 2009 — 2012,” the report states. “Notable sources of growth included the Joint Strike Fighter program ($US7.4 billion), nuclear reactors ($US1.1 billion), the H-1 Upgrade program ($US800 million), CVN-68 ($US800 million), DDG-51 ($US750 million), 6 and the E-2C Advanced Hawkeye ($US500 million).”
So the F-35 represents a majority of the Navy’s major new product obligations. It’s a big reason that spending in this area is still going up, while contract spending is falling across the rest of the military.
In contrast, the Army has seen huge cuts in its contract obligations, which at $US87 billion are smaller than the Navy’s for the first time in over ten years. In contrast, the Army’s contract spending in 2008 is nearly double what it is today, perhaps a result of the surge that sent around 30,000 additional US troops to Iraq.
Despite the overall decline in this form of spending, the US military’s contract obligations in 2013 were still over $US100 billion greater than in 2000 or 2001. The bump in contract spending that followed the post-9/11 “war on terror” appears to be a permanent shift even if it’s declined more recently.
Contractors cover a broad category of responsibilities ranging from research and development to hardware procurement and private security work.
Contract obligations represent roughly half of “total gross defence outlays,” according to the CSIS report. The share fell to 49 per cent in 2013, the lowest total in the post-9/11 era.
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