Cold War Military Relics: Why Congress Funds Them

Article excerpt

Key Points

* The Pentagon, arms manufacturers, and lobbyists push Congress to fund many outmoded weapons systems that were designed to fight a superpower foe.

* "Cold war momentum" drives the development and procurement of these weapons systems.

* Many legislators see the Pentagon budget as a jobs program for constituents, so they allocate funds for expensive weapons programs that lack a mission.

In July 1999, as the fiscal year 2000 military budget was winding its way through Congress, the Pentagon and Texas-based arms maker Lockheed Martin were dealt a blow to the solar plexus. Representative Jerry Lewis (RCA), chair of the defense subcommittee of the powerful House Appropriations panel, gutted funding slated for the purchase of six F-22 Raptors, the next-generation combat aircraft. Without warning and with just one vote, Lewis' committee had put the $63-billion fighter program in jeopardy--infuriating colleagues, the plane's manufacturer, and Pentagon officials, including Secretary of Defense William Cohen.

Lewis, who is more of a budget-hawk than a defense-hawk, argued that the F-22 hadn't been adequately tested and said the vote "sent a message ... that it's not going to be business as usual." Up until then, it had been: the F-22 has been the Air Force's "Golden Boy" for almost twenty years. And despite last year's funding anomaly, the jet is once again in Congress' good graces. On July 17, 2000, a House-Senate Conference Committee approved $4 billion for production of ten F-22 fighters.

The Raptor, as the F-22 is known, was conceived in the 1980s to fight Russian aircraft, and is one of many state-of-the-art cold war weapons programs the Pentagon continues to tout as vital to U.S. security. Other such programs include the Navy's new attack submarine (NSSN), which will cost over $65 billion. With the Soviet Union's demise, the probability of an enemy sub force challenging or surpassing the current U.S. fleet is remote. And although the U.S. already fields the world's premier sub--the Los Angeles class--30 NSSN subs will be built by 2006.

The Army also appears to be firmly entrenched in cold war thinking. According to a July 1999 General Accounting Office (GAO) report, despite an 80% reduction in armored threats since 1990, "inventories of the more sophisticated and lethal antiarmor weapons have actually increased." The GAO report estimates that the Pentagon will spend over $11 billion to purchase antiarmor systems already in production, and is developing nine more. …