Defense Secretary Gates held a press conference today and laid out his plans for next year's budget. America's arms spending will increase. But it won't increase as fast as it might have. That's why the headlines say "MAJOR CUTS." Defense Secretary Gates ordered four more F-22 fighter-bombers, today, in the budget he presented. But he said he won't order any the year after that, in the budget he won't present until 2010. This is why the headlines say "GATES KILLS F-22."
The budget is being cut in the sense that it's going up. The F-22 has been killed in the sense that we've appropriated all the money we need to keep building them until we have to think about it again.
The good news is that we're calling bad news good news.
We have 183 F-22s. (The world's most expensive fighter aircraft. And one that's never fired a shot in anger, except against Iron Man, and I'm pretty sure that was CGI, and even there, Iron Man won.) Obama wants four more.
The money for the planes will come out of the 2009 war supplement, because the F-22 has never been used in war.
William James would call it the moral supplement for war.
Keeping the F-22 alive while claiming to kill it gives its friends in congress twelve months to come up with new reasons to build more.
As aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia explains:
"It was a surprise but just enough of a tactical victory to keep the F-22 going and allow political pressure to be brought to bear."
But let's say the F-22 should someday die, I mean for real. Not only would it leave America pathetically vulnerable to attack from Iron Men, it would also be a devastating economic blow to Lockheed, who builds it, and whose shares have barely tripled since September 11th.
The comforting news is that they also build its replacement, the F-35.
Today, Gates announced he was doubling orders for the F-35 from 14 in 2009 to 30 in 2010, at a cost of $11.2 billion.
And Lockheed's stock rose 8.9%.
Here's the thing about headlines about defense spending "cuts": It's like what Mondrian supposedly said about the neon lights of Times Square: "How beautiful! If I only couldn't read English."