Gold-Plated Weapons

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The Bradley is a behemoth, so wide that it cannot readily fit into the standard C-141 military transport plane; it has to be partially disassembled. Its 5½-in.-thick armor adds some protection, but on the battlefield, critics charge, the vehicle would be a death trap. Its width and excessive height (10 ft.) offer an inviting target to enemy gunners. At times it even has to be a stationary target: the Bradley must come to a complete stop to fire its antitank missile. Its 25-mm gun also has a problem: it is said to be highly inaccurate.

Hand-carried, cheap (average cost: $150) antitank rockets, which are now standard equipment for every infantry squad in the Warsaw Pact armies, rip through the Bradley's aluminum armor like a welder's torch. Unlike steel, the aluminum vaporizes and burns, adding immense heat to the explosion inside and producing a fireball. That is not a theoretical danger. The M113 also is made of aluminum, and M113s carrying Israeli troops went up in flames in Lebanon. During the invasion, Israeli troops rode on the exposed areas of the M113—not inside it. Since the Bradley is designed for actual combat, it is far more likely to be hit, and since its armor is twice as thick, there is twice as much aluminum to vaporize.

The crowning irony is that for all its imposing bulk, the Bradley is so cramped that only six soldiers can squeeze into it with the commander, driver and gunner. The M113 will carry eleven. The Bradley, sums up Paul Hoven of the Washington-based Project on Military Procurement, "is an infantry fighting vehicle with almost no room for the infantry."

A-7 vs. F/A-18. Though it can do double duty as a fighter, the main role of the Navy's F/A-18 Hornet is to replace the A-7 Corsair II in flying from carriers to bomb and strafe targets onshore. The Navy wants to order 1,366 of the new aircraft at a total cost of $41 billion, or $30 million each, triple the $9.9 million cost originally expected and also triple the cost of the latest version of the A7.

Alas, the flashy Hornet burned fuel so fast in test flights that its combat radius is now calculated at only 390 miles, about half the range of the A7. Either the Hornet would have to be refueled in flight or its carrier would have to sail closer to hostile shores than might be desirable. Test pilots have described the F/A-18's elaborate air-to-ground radar as "grossly inaccurate." Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Thayer flew one himself to check out reports of serious problems; when he landed, the nose wheel failed to come down and he had to adopt emergency procedures. Some experts now believe that the very concept of such a multipurpose plane is wrong. They point out that in Viet Nam, Navy pilots who specialized in either dogfights or bombing missions outperformed Air Force pilots who tried to do both.

Thayer is considering cutting back the Navy's order to 900 Hornets. But that would drive the cost of the individual aircraft still higher. Moreover, the Navy would probably want to substitute F-14 Tomcats, carrier-based fighters, for the unpurchased Hornets in their fighter role. Tomcats are even more expensive; they cost $44.3 million apiece.

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