The Winds of Reform

  • Share
  • Read Later

(6 of 13)

systems, the Viper is a Lazarus. A slavish devotion to the latest high technology is perhaps the most basic cause of problems in the weapons-buying process. It results in massive sacrifices in the quantity of arms to achieve what seems on the surface to be improvements in quality. "The fallacy of the past 40 years has been that technology will save us," says the Heritage Foundation's Kuhn. The trend toward relying on high-tech weapons to offset the numerical advantages enjoyed by the Soviet bloc accelerated during the tenure of Robert McNamara as Defense Secretary and has led to a bureaucratic infatuation with "gold plating" every new system. Spinney's seminal 1980 report concluded with the warning: "Our strategy of pursuing ever increasing technical complexity and sophistication has made high-technology solutions and combat readiness mutually exclusive."

The 90% decrease in tank production and 95% drop in fighter-plane construction over 30 years is only the most obvious manifestation of the huge sacrifices of quantity being made to achieve technological sophistication. The Navy's decision to retire 22 ships this year starkly illustrates the dilemma. It placed the ships in mothballs in order to comply with a congressional order that it trim the sails of its 1983 spending. But the Navy did not want to cut planned procurement of new ships. Of the 13 Forrest Sherman-class escort destroyers that were retired, twelve had been extensively overhauled within the past two years. Of the four Decatur-class guided-missile destroyers retired, three had been recently overhauled. Even some Navy fleet commanders were dismayed by the retirement of five landing-dock ships (four of which had recently been overhauled) that are essential for quickly moving troops to trouble spots. This was done to keep just one new landing-dock ship in production. The new landing dock has no real advantage over the five being retired. Total savings from the 22 retirements: $249 million. Eventual cost of the five ships preserved by the move: $4.4 billion. "[Navy Secretary John] Lehman is not interested in achieving the 600-ship fleet," says a critic. "He just wants to build ships."

Norman Augustine, a former top Pentagon official and currently president of the Martin Marietta Aerospace division in Denver, has published a set of tongue-in-cheek maxims about military spending. He contends: "From the days of the Wright brothers' airplane to the era of the modern high-performance fighter aircraft, the cost of an individual aircraft has unwaveringly grown by a factor of four every ten years." Thus his Final Law of Economic Disarmament: "In the year 2054, the entire defense budget will purchase just one tactical aircraft."

Defenders of the system obviously claim that the quantitative decline in weapons has been offset by the qualitative advances in performance. No doubt the new M-1 tank, at least on paper, is faster and more powerful than the M-60 tank now in use. But the same amount of money could buy three times as many of the reliable M-60s as the problem-plagued M1s, a ratio that might strike battle commanders as quite attractive. Sprey, the former Pentagon official, argues that this type of numerical gain could come by buying cheaper rather than superexpensive weapons for a variety of specific missions. For

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10
  11. 11
  12. 12
  13. 13