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'Duke' Gone; Air Force Bummed

Sure, it means one less crook on Capitol Hill. But Randy "Duke" Cunningham's resignation from Congress also means that the Air Force loses one of its biggest allies in the legislature.duke_resigns.jpgCunningham "pleaded guilty Monday to conspiracy and tax charges and tearfully resigned from office, admitting he took $2.4 million in bribes to steer defense contracts to conspirators," says the AP.But before Cunningham got cozy with the likes of shady security analysis firm MZM, Inc. and dodgy digital documenter ADCS Inc., the guy was a hero -- the first American fighter ace of the Vietnam War, shooting down five Russian MiGs. He went on to become an instructor at the Navy's "Top Gun" school, and then to Congress, where he got deeply involved with military matters. Especially matters with wings and big price tags.When Pentagon chiefs wanted to cut $10 billion or so from the Cold War-inspired, $40 billion F-22 Raptor jet, Cunningham "lectured" Rumsfeld that "no airplane in the world can touch the F-22,'" according to Defense News. "Other U.S. pilots 'are going to die 95 percent of the time' if they fight [new] Russian Su-30s and Su-37s [fighter jets]."Many former Top Gun graduates, like former Marine Gen. Tom Wilkerson, aren't so sure. Earlier this year, he told me that the days of dogfights were over, basically, and that "maybe you don't need any fighter pilots at all." Let's just say he wasn't impressed with the Raptor rationale.But credit Cunningham with being consistent. He cited the same 95% death rate back in 2000, when he was pushing his colleagues to bankroll the AIM-9X advanced air-to-air missile and Boeing's "look-and-shoot" Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System. "We needed those five years ago," he told Defense Daily. The Su-30s and Su-37s "have a helmet-mounted site that they can turn their head and lock you up, and that missile will make the corner. Ours won't."A year later -- before 9/11, before the Predator drone became so famously successful over Afghanistan -- Cunningham was agitating for Congress to pay for the development of the next-generation "Predator B" unmanned spy plane. The Air Force in March announced that it would be buying 144 more of the drones over the next five years, for a $5.7 billion.THERE'S MORE: Will someone please explain why the Bush administration "hired Duke-briber "MZM, a 'defense and intelligence firm,' to buy office furniture for the White House?

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