The F-35 initiative is the Defense Department’s most expensive weapons program ever, expected to cost taxpayers more than $1 trillion over its 60-year lifespan. Credit: USAF photo.

The wacky clown show of a president is gone.

Back on a Florida golf course, where he belongs.

But now … the fun begins. US President Joe Biden faces some tough decisions when it comes to military spending. This is a hot issue in Congress, for both sides of the political fence.

The US Navy is demanding a 500-ship fleet, to match and raise China, in a winner-take-all card game of global poker.

It also wants high-tech unmanned vessels that can shoot loitering munition drones at the enemy.

Meanwhile, the US Air Force is placing its bets on the new B-21 Sky Raider bombers, which are forecast to cost between $500 million and $600 million apiece – and it would like about 200 of them.

The Marine Corps is trying to stay within budgets, shedding tanks and divisions, and reshaping its task and purpose in the South Pacific.

The US Army? According to reports, it is currently pursuing more than 30 signature modernization systems under its updated acquisition process it promises will be more transparent.

Then there are the hundreds of billions of dollars that will be required to sustain and modernize America’s nuclear delivery systems and infrastructure.

Hypersonic missiles, US Space Force … let’s not even go there.

All of which caused Democratic Representative Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, to tell a Brookings Institute forum it’s time to “focus on capability,” rather than numbers, USNI News reported.

The US Air Force is hedging its bets on the new B-21 Sky Raider, which comes with a price tag of between US$500 million and $600 million apiece. Image: USAF artist’s rendering

In his view, that includes looking into end-strength numbers as a way of freeing more money for future investment. He asked: “What do we really need going forward?”

In particular, he took aim at the much-troubled F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, which is known in some circles as the US$1 trillion mistake.

“We’ve got to seriously scrub” programs like the F-35 in Congress instead of rewarding “people for failure, not results” in developing new weapons systems, he said.

“It all comes down to not putting all your eggs in one basket,” he said of the the fifth-generation fighter. “There’s no easy way out.”

Smith said he wasn’t saying the US and its allies did not need modernized fighters, USNI News reported.

“I want to stop throwing money down that rat-hole,” he said, quite bluntly.

Instead of buying more F-35s, he said the US Air Force’s F-15EX could provide a model for other services to follow in adding capacity to their air fleets without retooling production lines already developed for foreign military sales.

According to, the program has been plagued with breakdowns – including engine fires, structural cracks, and peeling and crumbling insulation in its cooling lines.

Lawmakers have also scrutinized the jet’s sustainment, maintenance and supply-chain management because of mismanagement and herculean cost overruns.

The USAF is currently conducting a “TacAir study” to determine the right mix of aircraft for its future inventory and assess how “air dominance” fighter-drone concepts could fit into it.

According to Airforce Technology online, the service is seemingly ahead of its counterparts in the race for the development of a next-gen fighter aircraft.

The US Air Force Research Laboratory released a rendering of the sixth-generation aircraft F/X in March 2018, which indicated the aircraft will have a sleek, stealthy design with a high-energy laser capable of cutting enemy aircraft in half.

Also known as Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) or Penetrating Counter Air, the future aircraft is expected to have longer range and larger payloads, as well as the ability to carry hypersonic weapons.

The USAF has not yet chosen the manufacturer for the six-generation fighter aircraft and information about the capabilities of the F/X into public domain is currently not available.

After his remarks on the F-35, Smith said “don’t even get me started on the 500-ship Navy.”

An F-35B Lightning II prepares to land aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) off the coast of Okinawa, Japan. Photo: US Marine Corps / Lance-Corporal Amy Phan

He compared it to “asking Cookie Monster how many cookies you should have in your cookie store.… Is there ever a time we’re going [to satisfy] combatant commanders on what they want? No. There’s a finite amount of money.”

Smith added, “Tell them, ‘This is your budget, make it work.’”

Looking at his colleagues in Congress who push for funding within the Pentagon budget based on parochial priorities, Smith said, “It’s not their job to push as much money as possible into their district.”

He said he understood the urge, noting “it’s politics,” but said “we don’t have the money to waste” on home district pet projects, USNI News reported.

“China obviously is the big issue,” Smith said throughout the discussion. He expressed concern about stumbling into a Cold War with China as Washington did with the Soviet Union.

Smith said the approach to Beijing with allies and partners should be one that “embraces containment and deterrence” but makes clear “we would impose a cost” on China for aggression, USNI News reported.

He also cited the late president Richard Nixon’s meetings with Chinese leaders Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, and Ronald Reagan’s meetings with Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev as effective means to keeping a cold war from becoming a hot one.

He also rejected congressional calls to raise the nuclear stockpile to 5,000 weapons and spend $1.5 trillion on nuclear modernization to counter China’s expected addition of 200 new weapons to its current 200, USNI News reported.

“We must have a nuclear deterrent,” Smith said. “The technology is not going away.”