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What could the $1.5 Trillion we’re spending on the F-35 buy instead?

Avatar for Ben Zientara
Published on 05/13/2016 in
Updated 10/23/2018

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So what’s the big deal with the F-35?

Our government spends a lot of money on ever more effective ways to kill people. Unmanned drone strikes, cruise missile systems, thousands of war machines and machine guns sold to local police departments. You know, the fruits of the poisoned military industrial complex tree.

But hey, we’re not here to debate the morality of war, or even the necessity of having private companies developing new technologies for it—technologies which often end up enriching the lives of ordinary people at home and abroad. Not to mention all the good-paying jobs awarded to some of our best scientists and engineers.

But when you spend, oh, say $1.5 TRILLION for a war machine, it should probably at least do the things it’s supposed to, right? Enter the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a plane so famous for being a hunk of overpriced junk, even notorious hawk John McCain has called it “a scandal and a tragedy.”

Anyway, here’s the story so far with this boondoggle: The F-35 was supposed to be the plane of the future for the USAF. It’s got all the modern bells and whistles and a software system so full of bugs it might as well be called “the Ford Focus EV of superplanes.”

We were so frustrated by this wasteful war machine, we did some digging and some math to find out what else we could pay for with the cash. Turns out a whole lot of really great things could happen if we spent $1.5 trillion on other stuff. So we made the infographic above.

So what’s in the infographic?

To summarize, the 50-year cost of the F-35 program is $1.5 trillion. Here are some other things you could do with that money (all numbers include inflation):

And, oh yeah, install enough solar panels to power the entire country.

Which would create 500,000 jobs, and would allow us to reduce electricity costs by 75%, to just 3.3 cents/kWh, while still earning the government a healthy profit of $3.6 trillion over the 50-year span, which we would suggest could be used to pay down our national debt.

We’d do it by installing panels in the sunniest areas first, spending 1/25th of the $1.5 trillion each year for 25 years. We assume a few things, like a yearly decrease of 10% in the cost to install panels (because we’re buying so many), an increase in efficiency of 0.1%/year (pretty conservative), a 25-year life for the installations (really conservative), and that each year would expand the program to areas that get less sun.

By the end of our 15-year building spree, we’d be generating 4.6 million gigawatt-hours GWh per year, which is 105% of our projected nationwide usage (currently 3.8 million GWh, annual growth of 0.56%), and our solar projects would take up a little more than 46,000 square miles (think 230×200 miles, but spread around the country in various places).

Notably, we didn’t include costs for energy storage, which is a big omission; if we’re going to be 100% solar, we’re going to need a LOT of very big batteries to store the GWh that aren’t used during the daylight hours. But we don’t anticipate energy storage to be a big problem. If you build the panels, the energy storage will come.

This idea is so complicated, we’re working on another infographic to get all the information organized in a clear way. Stay tunes to our blog for more details.

Just think about powering the entire country with solar. We could be the envy of the world, rather than its military industrial complex-enabling bully.

Last modified: October 23, 2018

10 thoughts on “What could the $1.5 Trillion we’re spending on the F-35 buy instead?

  1. Avatar for PeterS PeterS says:

    You sure put your foot in it again. Why pick on the F35 when there are a thousand other boondoggles to pick from. In a democracy we would have distributed renewable energy. Our economy is based on waste and war. Thanks for speaking up. Every little bit will help to prolong the existence of the species.

  2. Avatar for Scott A. Joseph, MD Scott A. Joseph, MD says:

    I am a huge fan of our military. But spending money on planes that don’t work, while our young troops go on food stamps and our VA’s waitlists are scandalous, is disgusting. NASA has spun off many, many things that help us. For example, where I went to medical school, Hurricanes were a huge menace, predicted by satellites. I actually had people in Galveston protest the Space Program, which is undoubtedly the best money America has ever spent on ANYTHING! Our entire modern computerized civilization spun off from NASA, as did much of our modern medical monitoring technology.

  3. Avatar for John in Des Moines John in Des Moines says:

    I am so tired of infographics like this because they are ill conceived and irresponsible. This isn’t an either/or conversation. Regardless of success or failure of Government spending, it isn’t the job of a researcher for a solar company to lend opinion on military spending within our government. I, for one, will never use your products.

  4. Avatar for Jacob Jacob says:

    Let me just say that I am so glad wasn’t afraid to take on this topic, even though it branches out from solar power. The trillion dollars spent on this jet has been seriously irking me ever since I heard about it and it just goes to show the amount of truth that was behind President Eisenhower’s warning about the growing power of the military industrial complex.

    1. Avatar for Ben Zientara Ben Zientara says:

      Thanks, Jacob. We got out start with an infographic about Iraq war spending, so this is right in our wheelhouse. Good to know some other people feel the anger about military spending we do.

  5. Avatar for Lon M. Lon M. says:

    Your argument is very simplistic. First of all, if we hadn’t spent the money on the F-35,

  6. Avatar for Kevin Kevin says:

    The primary job of the government is defense of our sovereign nation. That being said, defense contracting and accountability for defense contracting in the country sucks.

  7. Avatar for Rick Rick says:

    The irony of this post is that the F35 was conceived as a way to reduce cost. Because it will have many interchangeable parts across branches and did not have the price tag of superior aircraft like the F22 (which is potentially the greatest thing ever designed). So now we have a cheap aircraft riddled with problems. This is not the first time this has happened. The F16 originally earned the nickname lawn dart because early models had a tendency to crash shortly after take off. We worked out the kinks, but that was also an attempt to make a more economic aircraft as it was a single engine and cheaper than its vastly superior predecessors, the dual engine f-15 and f-14.

  8. Avatar for BOTA BOTA says:

    How much taxpayer money is pissed away on solar – include bankrupcies funded by the public, all tax subsidies and so on…..

    1. Avatar for Ben Zientara Ben Zientara says:

      Depends on what you mean by “pissed away,” I guess. Solar advocates would say that even the money spent failed solar companies is worth it to serve the ultimate goal of getting our energy economy off fossil fuels. As for subsidies, it’s pretty clear that they’ve worked wonders to reduce the cost of buying solar panels, create jobs and marketplace opportunities for private enterprise, and quicken the pace of technological advancement. We wouldn’t be anywhere close to where we are today with solar power if not for those subsidies.

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