Mutually beneficial military spending

One of the first things I learned in government was how to make decisions — you make the easy ones quickly and don’t look back, so you have the time and focus you need to get the hard ones right. Start second guessing yourself on the no-brainers and you’ll never manage the tough ones where any policymaker really earns his or her pay.

It’s why I can’t help but shake my head as I watch my friends in Congress dither year after year when it comes to one of the easiest decisions in our military budget today — funding Super Hornet and Growler aircraft our Navy desperately needs.

There is no question that our military needs these aircraft, which are built at Boeing’s assembly line across the river in St. Louis. Naval officials have warned we face a shortage of 24-36 Super Hornets just to outfit our carrier decks. Efforts to fill the gap by extending the lives of older Hornets have proven challenging — like any car owner trying to squeeze a few more years out of an older model, eventually repairs become more costly than buying new. And the Growler electronic attack aircraft is if anything even more important — its unparalleled ability to jam enemy radar and communications helps render our aircraft virtually invisible to the enemy, helping pilots return safely from even the most dangerous missions. Commanders charged with running high-intensity air operations like the battle against ISIS are clamoring for more, leaving the Navy 50-100 aircraft short.

For our community, the case for more Growlers and Super Hornets has other elements as well. Without more orders, Boeing’s St. Louis F/A-18 assembly line will be forced to close in the next two years. In St. Clair County, and all of Illinois, that would be simply devastating. The Super Hornet program is responsible for $30 million in economic impact in our state, and 500 high-quality jobs, including sub-assembly work at the company’s Mascoutah facility here in St. Clair County. Overall, 23 Illinois suppliers from all corners of the state work on this program, from Budnick Converting in the south to Morgan Bronze Products in the north.

Boeing has also been a valued civic partner, supporting schools and math/science “STEM” programs, and making more than $10 million a year in charitable contributions, including grants to the Illinois Math Science Academy and the East St. Louis Public School District that have directly impacted us here in St. Clair County.

The administration’s budget request currently includes no Super Hornet or Growler aircraft, even though the Navy has asked for 12 Super Hornets on its “unfunded requirements” list. This simply makes no sense. Sending an aircraft carrier into combat without a full complement of fighter jets needlessly increases the risk to our troops and lowers the odds of mission success. Sending aircraft into hostile airspace without requested Growler cover would be gambling with our pilots’ lives. So far, our military has juggled its limited inventory of equipment and managed these risks — but stopgaps and half measures can only last so long.

Boeing has been a great partner to St. Clair County and the other communities in our state and around the country that contribute to our national defense by working on the Super Hornet and Growler programs. Standing with these communities and providing the aircraft our military leaders have said they need should be one of the easiest decisions a congressman or congresswoman can make. So let’s make it — and move on.

Mark A. Kern is chairman of the St. Clair County Board.