The Winds of Reform

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Nunn of Georgia, Republican Senators William Cohen of Maine and Warren Rudman of New Hampshire, and Republican Congressmen Newt Gingrich of Georgia and William Whitehurst of Virginia.

So far the caucus can point to few, if any, substantive accomplishments. One reason is pointed out by Senator Tower, an ardent defender of the military Establishment: "If you got the reform group together and started going through specific programs, you couldn't get them to agree on any of them." Another reason is that the reformers are as susceptible as any member of Congress to seeking pork for their constituents. Whitehurst rejects the reformers' suggestion that two new nuclear aircraft carriers are unnecessary; they are being built near his Norfolk, Va., district. Nunn defends Lockheed's controversial C-5 transport planes; they are made in Georgia. When the Senate approved funding for three AEGIS-system cruisers, it decided to split the work between two shipyards. One of the lucky shipyards happened to be in Maine, home state of Reformer Cohen, chairman of the seapower subcommittee.

Indeed, the scramble for goodies for the folks back home often seems to be the overriding concern of many members of Congress. Even those doves who argue most for defense cuts have their pet interests: House Speaker Tip O'Neill and Senator Edward Kennedy support the F-18 because its engine is built in Massachusetts; Senator Alan Cranston supports the B-1 because its prime contractor is based in California; Senator Carl Levin supports the M-1 tank, built in Michigan; Senator William Proxmire, who likes to hand out "Golden Fleece" awards to others, added $100 million to the defense budget last year by winning approval for a new minesweeper to be built—where else?—in Wisconsin.

By the time the cost overruns begin and tests show that high-tech wonders are low-success blunders, Congress is hooked on the project. "Once on the drawing board, these weapons build a constituency . .. the weapon develops a local chamber of commerce," says Arkansas Senator David Pryor, who tried and failed to shoot down the misguided Maverick missile. The Pentagon knows how to exploit this weakness. Parts of the B-1B bomber, for example, are now being built in 47 states and 400 congressional districts. When Congress considered cutting a proposed nuclear aircraft carrier, the Navy sent representatives to every Congressman whose district might get a contract to stress the number of jobs that could be lost.

One solace is that the Soviet military, which has been trying to close the "technology gap" by building more complex weapons, is falling into some of the same traps. As Defense Analyst Andrew Cockburn writes in his forthcoming book The Threat: Inside the Soviet Military Machine, "The Soviet Air Force is now busily imitating [Western] 'advanced technology' systems, including 'all-weather' radar and complex 'look-down-shoot-down' systems—the same features that have made American fighters so expensive and unreliable." The Soviet T-72 tank, Sprey notes, is slower than the American M60, breaks down 50% more often, is highly flammable, and uses an unreliable ammunition loader. The "advanced" MiG-23 fighter plane is less effective than an F-16 because it is bigger, smokes heavily and is far less maneuverable.

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