Selling F15s

2011-03-08

in Bombs and rockets, Economics, Geek stuff, Law, Politics, Rants, Security

Does it strike anyone else as strange and somewhat objectionable that the United States is selling the F-15 attack aircraft to Saudi Arabia? Before being supplanted with the F22 and F35, the F15 had unmatched capabilities. As such, you need to wonder whether the United States would be better off keeping sales of the old plane restricted and being less bothered about developing new generations of attack aircraft during an era where they already possess complete air superiority.

A cynical perspective is that this all comes down to the arms industry. They can’t sell F-15s to the United States anymore, so they want new customers. Even better, they know that the United States will feel threatened by F15s in the hands of potentially unstable regimes like Saudi Arabia, and that the US will respond by purchasing more F22, F35s, and other hardware.

It’s like a gun shop that sells its newest weapons only to its best customers, but progressively makes each new weapon available to anyone with the cash. That keeps the best customers locked on an upgrade pathway and keeps weapon designers in business. Unfortunately, it also makes the world a riskier place, and wastes substantial resources that could be better applied to reducing poverty or building a more sustainable society.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Tristan March 8, 2011 at 10:04 am

If you are concerned with American arms sale, feel free to divest from the relevant arms companies.

Milan March 8, 2011 at 10:28 am

I don’t think that is going to exactly starve them of capital, though it might give me the false sense that I have made a difference.

The real competition is to change government policies, not the actions if a few unusually concerned individuals.

Byron Smith March 8, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Such actions are not irrelevant where they become symbolic and enable engaging with government policy makers with more integrity.

I’ve recently set about switching banks when I discovered the role of my previous one in the arms trade.

Speaking of the cost of military hardware, I remember seeing a graph (can’t seem to find it now) of the cost of fighter planes over time, showing that each generation is exponentially more expensive than the one before. On current trends, the graph extrapolated to point later this century (about 2050 if I remember) when a single fighter plane would cost the entire US GDP.

Milan March 8, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Doesn’t that say more about the limits of extrapolation than about fighter jets?

My friend Bill had no wives yesterday and has one today. By this time next month, he should have about thirty…

Matt March 8, 2011 at 2:04 pm

The more I think about the US economy, the more I think they’re screwed. They’ve lost most manufacturing to Asia, and almost all they have left in that realm is military hardware.

What will drive their economy in the future?

oleh March 8, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Eisenhower warned about hte industrial – military complex at the end of his presidency. The United States Department of Defence administers $103 billion in overseas arm sales annually. Regarding military aircraft, Lockheed Martin and Boeing are direct beneficiaries. There are also substantial pressures to support this industry whereever there are jobs, which basically in every state. That is where the national interest for jobs and economic benefits co-incides with those of the shareholders of Boeing and Loughheed Martin.

Divestment by an individual has symbolic value. The greater effect would be where large institutional investors, such as teachers’s funds, divested from shareholdings in military manufactures. External divestment in South Africa seemed to have an effect on those in power in South Africa.

Milan March 8, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Also, should we really expect arms manufacturers to only try to sell their products to admirable governments that uphold some standard of respect for human rights? Are private companies really the best entities to decide who we should sell to?

It seems a bit strange to divest from the manufacturers of the F-15 because the US government has decided to allow Saudi Arabia to buy them.

Perhaps it is better for their home governments to treat them like for-profit enterprises that want to sell to whoever governments will allow them to sell to, and deal with the question of who can buy arms from our domestic manufacturers by establishing laws about which governments are legal customers.

Quite possibly, the approach taken there should be a white list – where you are banned from purchasing unless specifically approved – rather than a black list – where only the worst of the worst are excluded.

R.K. March 8, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I wonder if the US could sabotage the software in the F-15s so that they could be rendered ineffective if Saudi forces ever end up fighting American forces.

Matt March 9, 2011 at 2:20 am

I wonder if the US could sabotage the software in the F-15s so that they could be rendered ineffective if Saudi forces ever end up fighting American forces.

Only the ones made by Apple, unless they are jailbroken.

Matt March 9, 2011 at 2:29 am

Quite possibly, the approach taken there should be a white list – where you are banned from purchasing unless specifically approved – rather than a black list – where only the worst of the worst are excluded.

This is already done, though. For instance you don’t see the F-22, B-2, F-117 (retired) flying with any air forces except for the US Air Force. Even if a friendly nation, say Canada, wanted to buy them, they couldn’t.

The whitelist approach doesn’t help all that much, though. Iran has a fleet of F-14s that they picked up through legitimate means. I’m sure the US would rather they didn’t have them. Politics change.

It seems a bit strange to divest from the manufacturers of the F-15 because the US government has decided to allow Saudi Arabia to buy them.

Why? If you don’t like climate change, don’t buy Shell. If you don’t like war, don’t buy Boeing.

Milan March 9, 2011 at 10:21 am

One important difference is that it is easy to imagine a world where fossil fuels are not burned for energy. It is hard to imagine a world where states do not go to war.

Redirecting capital from fossil fuel companies to those deploying renewable forms of energy is part of a feasible plan.   Divesting from arms companies seems less so, especially given that many other people and investing institutions will cheerfully fill the void you create.

Byron Smith March 9, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Doesn’t that say more about the limits of extrapolation than about fighter jets?
Perhaps, but only if the extrapolation is taken as the point. The point is that there may well be limits on the possibility of technical upgrades, so that the strategy of onselling the second string technology to other states while upgrading one’s own has a limited lifespan. At some point you either stop selling, or are selling technology that is equal to your own capabilities. The point at which such a limit is reached will test the relative interests of governments and corporations, which can exist in a happy partnership of destructive potential until that time.

Redirecting capital from fossil fuel companies to those deploying renewable forms of energy is part of a feasible plan. Divesting from arms companies seems less so, especially given that many other people and investing institutions will cheerfully fill the void you create.
War may be a recurrent feature of human society, but arms races are not necessarily so, nor is imperialism (or rather, while these are frequently found in human societies, working to minimise their occurrence is not futile).

Tristan March 9, 2011 at 12:16 pm

I strongly agree with Oleh’s view on the importance of institutional divestment, especially re its role in ending apartheid in South Africa.

Milan is right – individual actions, so long as they remain individual, are not of great importance. But, luckily, we aren’t only individuals – we exist in webs, social networks (social networks are actually made up of people; the internet is just one way of facilitating people’s interaction). Personal decisions can springboard to people joining together and demanding institutional divestment. That’s what Students Against Israeli Apartheid, University of Toronto, are calling for starting this monday – U of T’s divestment from BAE systems, Lockheed Martin, HP and Northrop Group. All these firms profit directly from the occupation of the Palestinian territories, and supporting them with capital means supporting the occupation.

Tristan March 9, 2011 at 12:21 pm

“it is easy to imagine a world where fossil fuels are not burned for energy. It is hard to imagine a world where states do not go to war.”

It is very hard for me to imagine a world where fossil fuels are not burned for energy, yet states continue to go to war. One simple reason would be any state which stops using oil in its war machine will be so disadvantaged that it would be tactically easier for it to be challenged militarily.

The maintenance of the American empire requires increasing military intervention which both uses oil and is for the sake of securing oil resources. If we no longer use oil for energy, we will no longer have oil resource wars. The gap will be filled, easily, by wars over other resources like water. The ’67 war in the middle east was one of the first water wars, and if you want to know what water imperialism feels like you can just ask a Palestinian who is not allowed to dig as deep for water as his Jewish neighbor. Such oppression inevitably breeds resistance, which can (historically, but perhaps not necessarily) leads to massacres and wars.

EK March 9, 2011 at 10:08 pm

There is totally a West Wing episode about this.

Milan March 10, 2011 at 12:13 am

Season? Episode? Title?

. March 12, 2011 at 12:34 am

If a company wants to sell a weapon abroad, it must apply to the Department of Foreign Affairs for a permit, according to the rules of the Export and Import Permits Act. Foreign Affairs gathers the statistics from these permits to produce annual reports, which detail what we’re selling, the dollar amounts and to what countries.

The department is supposed to table these annual reports in Parliament. Foreign Affairs rightly points out that there’s no legal requirement for the department to do this. However, as was made clear by an explanation in a document about these reports that I obtained through access to information, “the practice of producing a military report is one that is shared by many like-minded countries, including EU member-states, Australia, the U.S., and so on.” The explanation goes on to describe this disclosure as a “voluntary transparency.”

. March 14, 2011 at 11:41 pm

Between 2007 and 2009, Canadian companies exported about $1.4-billion in arms with the United Kingdom, Australia and Saudi Arabia topping the list of buyers.

The sales figures are contained in the latest report from the department of foreign affairs that tracks military sales from year to year.

Those figures don’t include sales to the United States, which is by far the largest buyer of arms from Canada. Because of a long-standing agreement between the two countries, Canada doesn’t track sales to the United States the way it does for other countries, so it does not appear on the department’s list.

Just before the politicians headed home for a week-long break, Foreign Affairs minister, Lawrence Cannon, tabled the Report on Exports of Military Goods from Canada for the years 2007 to 2009. His department had been under criticism for failing to produce these reports in a timely fashion.

Until today, the most recent report was from 2006. NDP foreign affairs critic, Paul Dewar, has been demanding the reports. Though he didn’t have a chance to study the latest one in detail before speaking with CBC News, he says there are some sales that raise concerns.

alena April 3, 2011 at 8:00 pm

It seems to me that the sale of the F15s does not have much prominence during the present election. The election is occurring as Canada participates in a military coalition (albeit ostensibly humanitarian) and shortly after the Opposition’s censure of the Government for not reporting accurately the sale of the F15s. I expected it would carry more prominence.

oleh April 3, 2011 at 8:01 pm

The above comment came from me. alena and I share a computer.

Milan April 3, 2011 at 8:52 pm

The F-15 and F-35 are not the same plane.

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