Magazine article The American Prospect

Costs a Bundle and Can't Fly: Dubious Weapons Systems Reap a Bush Budget Bonanza. (Gazette)

Magazine article The American Prospect

Costs a Bundle and Can't Fly: Dubious Weapons Systems Reap a Bush Budget Bonanza. (Gazette)

Article excerpt

FOR THE PAST DECADE, NUMEROUS career military officers and defense analysts--whose politics run the gamut from left to right--have held that U.S. combat in the twenty-first century probably won't mean grand, conventional battles with large standing armies. And September n suggests that these experts are right: Rather than a "rogue state" raining down ballistic missiles on us, or hordes of Red Chinese flexing regionally hegemonic muscle, low-tech operatives of an unorthodox army turned airplanes into bombs. For its part, the United States, in taking the fight to the parastatal entity behind the terrorist attacks, won the first round with a combination of highly mobile special-operations forces and the venerable B-52.

So what does the Bush administration do? Ask for a jacked-up defense budget: an increase of $120 billion over the next five years (an extra $48 billion for fiscal year 2003 alone). The increase exceeds any other nation's entire war chest. It includes tens of billions of dollars for weapons systems that aren't likely to see any action, because they're rooted in a long-gone era and, to make matters worse, they won't roll off the assembly lines for some time. "For 45 years of the Cold War, we were in an arms race with the Soviet Union," says retired Admiral Eugene Carroll of the Center for Defense Information. "Now it appears we're in an arms race with ourselves."

Of course, it would be nice if the administration funneled some tax dollars into programs that are of real use to troops or into new systems that would actually work on today's altered landscape of war. After all, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said last year, "every dollar squandered on waste is one denied to the war fighter." No such luck. Indeed, in one case, the misappropriated dollar is not only denied the soldier but goes to a weapon more lethal to us than enemy ordnance.

The V-22 Osprey, a tilt-rotor aircraft under the aegis of the U.S. Marine Corps, has killed more Marines than the Taliban has. It's perennially in an "experimental" stage. Four prototypes have crashed in the past l0 years, killing a total of 30 men, including the program's most experienced hand. Not long after the last crash, which occurred in December 2000, a report from the Pentagon understated in calling the Osprey program "not operationally sustainable." Even Dick Cheney, as defense secretary under the elder George Bush, tried to quash it. The current administration could have followed the March 2000 recommendation by the Congressional Budget Office to find safer and better applications for the technology developed in the program--a move that the CBO estimated would save $6.6 billion over the next decade. President Bush, however, wants Congress to give the Marines another $2 billion for the program. Meanwhile, the Air Force has requested $124 million for work on its own version of the disaster-prone aircraft.

How exactly this represents "transformation" of the U.S. military is unclear. But arguably even more puzzling is the blizzard of new dollars for the Army's $9-billion Crusader self-propelled artillery system. This 42-ton behemoth--meant to replace the Paladin self-propelled howitzer--is a screaming contradiction to the doctrine of "maneuver warfare" that Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki espouses. It is so unwieldy that neither the C-5 Galaxy nor the C-17 Globemaster, the two biggest aircraft in the military's cargo fleet, can carry a complete Crusader system. …

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