The Winds of Reform

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helicopter for the mission. The Army did, the Cheyenne. Unfortunately, helicopters are fat and vulnerable targets for ground fire. In the late '60s, the Army tried to make the Cheyenne maneuverable yet adequately armored, in the process boosting the cost to $7 million, more than that of a sophisticated fighter jet at the time. But no amount of money could turn a sitting duck into a soaring eagle. So the Cheyenne program was dropped in favor of the AH-64 Apache helicopter. The cost overruns on that project have forced up its price from $9 million to $17 million per chopper (more than an F-16 fighter) and even the Army balked at paying the builder, Hughes Helicopters. The Apache also has a characteristic that its pilots find disconcerting. To fire its laser-guided missile the AH-64 has to hover motionless in the open for up to 30 seconds, a difficult and dangerous business.

The AH-64 would be an expensive machine to lose in combat, so the Army began searching for a cheaper, smaller scout and observation chopper. It settled on the OH-58 Kiowa. The contractor, Bell Helicopter, apparently followed the time-honored practice of "buying into" a contract by submitting an artificially low initial estimate. Within two years, the projected cost of the total scout program doubled, from $1.3 billion to $2.7 billion, even though the number of aircraft to be bought was reduced from 720 to 578. Part of the problem is that the scout's complex laser sight has run into development problems, and new stabilizing devices may be needed to make it work. What is more, the Army is considering adding sophisticated new missiles. Congress is upset because the price of the "affordable" helicopter has now more than doubled to $4.6 million apiece. But instead of killing the program, it decided instead to cut the funding this year by 30%, and the Army decided to stretch out the production time. That will reduce the manufacturer's efficiency and make the program more vulnerable to inflation. Hence the unit cost will continue rising.

Another classic case of waste and confusion involves the Viper antitank weapon. Ten years ago, the Army decided to provide infantrymen with cheap, light antitank bazookas. The Vipers were projected to cost about $75 apiece, but design changes began almost as soon as the weapon was proposed. The weight, it was decided, must be reduced to less than seven pounds This meant the warhead had to weigh less than a pound, which sharply limited its potential destructive power. The size of the rocket motor was also reduced to cut blast noise. By the time the contractor finished redesigning it, the Vipers cost not $75, but $787 apiece. Worse yet, the scaled-down warhead could no longer penetrate the front armor of modern battle tanks nor stop Soviet tanks headon. The Kafkaesque solution: if the weapon will not do what it is supposed to do, redefine its mission. The Army decided the Viper should be used to snipe at tanks from the side or the rear, however limiting that might seem to a soldier in the field.

Even Congress, which is usually tolerant of procurement high jinks, was appalled by the Viper debacle. So the lawmakers cut the program last year. But is it dead? Buried in the 1983 Defense budget is $10 million for testing a light antitank system. The 1985 budget authorizes $122 million to purchase the first weapons. Like many discredited weapons

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