The F-35 Lightning II, otherwise known as the Joint Strike Fighter, has a lot of critics and a lot of supporters. To cut through the debate currently being waged on the aircraft it is important to point out four facts about the situation the Department of Defense finds itself in: The F-35 is behind schedule and over-budget; it isn't delivering the capabilities the military needs; the world is vastly different from the one in which the F-35 was envisioned; and fourth and most importantly, the DoD has cancelled, or terminated early, massive weapons programs in the past for similar reasons.
The United States spends a lot of money on defense. This is not an astounding fact. Just last month the president of the United States signed the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2015, giving the Department of Defense a base budget of $496 billion, plus $64 billion for what is referred to as Overseas Contingency Operations spending. This is because despite having a budget of nearly half a trillion dollars, the DoD base budget only covers normal operations and not combat spending. Also in the NDAA is $17.9 billion for the Department of Energy to spend on our nuclear weapons programs. If you didn't know, our nuclear weapons, though deployed on Navy submarines and housed in Air Force silos, are actually paid for by the Energy department.
While much of the Air Force spent 2014 worrying about force cuts, a select group of airmen faced the exact opposite situation. A small selection of pilots and combat systems officers were eligible for up to $25,000 per year if they signed up for an additional service commitment. Because they are in particularly high demand, fighter pilots could sign up for an extra nine years, earning them $225,000 in retention bonuses over that period. So, why is the Air Force paying some individuals to stay while forcing other airmen, including pilots, to leave? The answer to that lies in how pilots are made.
No one can miss the fact that the U.S. military is getting smaller. Serious cuts in every part of the Department of Defense budget are being enacted, planned, and imagined. One of the most visible ways these cuts are being mandated is through a reduction in end strength, the legal limit of personnel for each service. Every branch is dealing with these personnel cuts differently, yet the programs can generally be divided into two categories: voluntary and involuntary separation.