Old is the New New

With the V-22 Osprey ready to enter operational service, the Marines are looking at new toys to take advantage of the tilt-rotor craft's range and versatility. One of these is a new 120-mm rifled mortar. But mortars need vehicles to haul them -- and guess what? The V-22's cabin is too small to fit a Humvee. So the Marines are seriously considering buying a new version of the old M-151 Jeep to move the mortar. Imagine that: the old Jeep back in production, 20 years after it got bumped off the battlefield by the Humvee. It's not the only case where the military is looking to old machines -- some decades out of service -- to meet its current and future needs.The costs of new weapons are spiraling at an alarming rate. That goes double for adventurous new programs like Future Combat Systems, which are proving largely technologically impossible. But with a war going on, the Defense Department needs gear that's going to work -- now. It's no surprise, then, that the Pentagon is turning to equipment that proved its worth back when Rummy was Gerald Ford's SecDef.ov-10.jpg Consider the Vietnam-era Light Anti-tank Weapon, or LAW. Finding modern rockets like Javelin too complicated and expensive for urban warfare, the Marines have begun issuing LAWs to units in Iraq. On the aviation side, the Marines have ordered the first UH-1Y Hueys, new-production updates of the 30-year-old UH-1N. The AH-1 Cobra fleet is getting a similar makeover, albeit in a rebuild program for old airframes. Both helos are coming in on time, on budget and with the capabilities the Marines need. Meanwhile, the CH-53 is about to go back into production in a new version to replace choppers worn out in Iraq and Afghanistan.Across the aisle, the Army is reissuing old M-14 rifles. And soon the UH-60 fleet will be replaced with -- you guessed it -- the UH-60, in an updated model.In the Navy camp, skeptical old vets are leading a campaign to put two mothballed battleships back into service as alternatives to the Navy's $3-billion-per-copy DD(X) destroyer, which is being touted as a fire-support platform but, according to the Naval Fire Support Association, will provide only a fraction of the firepower of the old BBs at far greater cost, and much later.My friend Jim Doner, a retired Marine warrant officer who flew forward air control missions over Vietnam, is not at all surprised at this development. He says the best weapons are the old proven ones ... paired with an experienced, courageous operator. In particular, he laments the premature retirement of the OV-10 Bronco, a rugged, slow, cheap little airplane that excelled at getting airborne controllers over the battlefield where they could direct artillery and bombs more accurately than even today's controllers with their whiz-bang targeting pods. Doner says the OV-10 went away (in 1995) in favor of hi-tech multi-role jets that aren't always good at the simple, dirty and dangerous missions that are important in low-intensity wars.--David Axe

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