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HOW TO TRIM PENTAGON FAT

"This year, if all goes as President Bush plans, the United States will spend more money on the military than in any year since 1952, the peak of the Korean War," writes Slate's Fred Kaplan.So what can be cut out of this $487 billion behemoth? Kaplan offers four suggestions:

Stealth fighter planes. The budget includes $5.2 billion to build 22 F-22 Raptor stealth fighters and $4.4 billion to continue research and development for a smaller, single-engine version known as the F-35 Joint Strike fighter... (These jets) are designed as stealth "air-superiority" fighters planes whose main mission is to shoot down enemy planes... (But no) air force in the world, except perhaps those of Israel and France, could shoot down more than a few American non-stealth fighter planes in even a large, protracted dogfight (and most of those shoot-downs would be by dumb luck).Helicopters. The only American weapon that performed poorly in Gulf War II was the AH-64D Apache attack helicopterin its only massed assault, 30 out of 32 were shot up, mainly by Iraqi small-arms fire, and had to scurry back to base, most of them in disrepair. Yet the budget includes $777 million to keep buying Apaches.Nuclear weapons. For the past decade, the Pentagon has been denuclearizing its atomic arsenal. B-1, B-2, and B-52 bombers have been converted to carry conventional bombs and missiles. Four of the Navy's 11 Trident submarines are being similarly altered to fire non-nuclear Tomahawk cruise missiles. So why does this budget include $780 million to buy 12 more D-5 Trident II nuclear missiles for the other Trident subs?Missile defense. President Bush's much-cherished missile-defense program is not nearly ready for prime timeeven by the Pentagon's own (if sometimes understated) acknowledgement. Yet the president persists in his plans to deploy the beginnings of an anti-missile missile system before the end of the year and to continue to accelerate more advanced aspects of the program, even though all analyses indicate that the technology does not exist to support them.
THERE'S MORE: During the war, when Kaplan first starting criticizing the Apache, others countered that the helicopter itself wasn't flawed -- it was the way the Apache was used. The helicopter was designed to travel with fixed-wing air support, but had none during the disastrous encounter in Iraq.AND MORE: "The real problem with weapons programs it that their cost tends to balloon as they age," Phil Carter notes. "Defense contractors push a lot of their costs to the back end so that they can get the Pentagon to buy in when a project looks cheap. As the costs balloon, the contractors can file a claim for the costs, usually based on some sort of constructive change in the contract. The result is that large procurement programs have a deceptively small cost in the short-term, and a larger cost in the long-term, and an overall cost that's much higher than anticipated."AND MORE: In the late 70's to mid 80's, writes Defense Tech pal JA, "Army aviation became it's own branch... and in the spirit of separatism strove to develop a more muscular role as an independent actor on the battlefield..."The problem is that their weapons are still best suited to a supporting role *over* friendly troops, not in front of them. The outcome of the Flight of the Apaches was not real hard to predict... but apparently was easy to overlook or ignore in favor of seeing the choppers have a shot at kickin' big butt on their own. "AND MORE: Defense Tech reader RD notes, "Let's not forget to mention that the best front line support for troops which can be shot up, still deliver weapons, and get back to base" -- the A-10 -- is being slowly phased out. "There is no effective replacement in the pipeline, and they are frittering away money on the F-22 and JSF programs."
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