Monday, October 29, 2007

Want To Screw Defense Contractors?

This is a subject near and dear to my heart, it also underlines everything that is wrong with Washington D.C., so bear with me.

I used to be a hobby buyer for a small toy store and I’m also a life-long builder of plastic models. I’ve built almost every plane in the US Air Force inventory, a fleet of battleships, destroyers and aircraft carriers. I’ve mastered 1/35 scale armor and figures and made cool dioramas. I’ve built the Starship Enterprise from A to E, the Millennium Falcon and all of those cool Aurora movie-monster kits. I’ve even done a few dinosaurs.

I love building models. Almost as much as I love blowing them up with firecrackers. That’s another thread.

The most common question that I used to be asked was where are the modern kits? You could find the M1 Abrams and Bradley but only from Tamaya (a Japanese company and very expensive), the UH-60 was only made in 1/48 and 1/72, but not in 1/35. You couldn’t find a 105 Howitzer or 90% of current US military hardware. It was frustrating because I could never get an answer. Eventually new Chinese based model companies started to pick up the slack and I could finally stock Los Angeles-Class submarines, Arleigh Burke destroyers and funky Oshkosh fuel trucks. I even stocked prototypes of the F-23, which was never built.

The thing was that these kits were always more expensive than their Russian counterparts by 15% to 25% and that never made sense to me because the details for a T-72 are a tougher cast than an M1. A modern Destroyer model, which has less clutter on its deck, was more expensive than a WWII battleship, which has all kinds of guns and deck items to detail (thus more plastic). Then, for every modern vehicle introduced model companies would release 7 to 15 new WWII kits. You can buy every variation of the Tiger tank; you can buy Nazi prototypes and even German tanks that only showed up on the battlefield in the last months of the war. The reasons that WWII kits are more popular vary; some of it has to do with the fact that WWII tanks, fighters, bombers and warships are just more interesting as a subject than modern equipment. I’ll never get tired of building B-17s, PT boats and the F4U myself so I understand this. Then there is basic politics, Japanese kids (who dominate the model building world) aren’t as hot on American stuff as they are on WWII German stuff. Some countries even restrict the model industry to only that country’s weapons systems (France), or that a percentage MUST be domestic kits. That’s why Heller makes some great, unique French stuff.

Then I found out the main reason that it’s so damn hard to get modern stuff. It turns out that the reason modern US kits are few and far between is due to Defense contractors demanding a licensing fee from model makers. Not just the primary contractors either, even sub-contractors have gotten into the game. Even if that sub-contractor’s equipment is not represented in the model (the numerous black boxes on an F-22 for example) they still sick their lawyers on the model companies. That slows everything down and drives the price of the kit up. Why would any model company want to produce the new armored cars, for example, when it’s just easier, cheaper and more profitable to roll out yet another sub-type of the Super Tiger from WWII?

This sucks, here’s why…

Who pays for the F-22? Who pays for those little black boxes in the F-22’s avionics bays? WE DO! Yep, John Q Taxpayer owns those F-22s and those little black boxes inside of them. In fact, if it wasn’t for Mr. & Mrs. Taxpayer, the F-22 wouldn’t exist and neither would all of those little black boxes. These defense companies are double-dipping, they are getting paid twice and it’s wrong. I paid for all of those Blackhawks and if I want to buy a 1/35 MH-60 variant I shouldn’t have to reimburse Hughes for a box that nobody could see even if it was part of the kit. In fact, that particular box is classified; if I have to pay Hughes then I want to know how it works and what it does.

This is just sleazy.

Now New Jersey Congressman Andrews has introduced a bill to end this scummy practice:

It’s not going to save the world, end the war or make healthcare affordable but it IS a quality of life issue. It’s also a chance to set a small wrong back to right again.

Sorry to vent but this is something I’ve followed and feel strongly about.

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