DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
July 19, 1999

WILL THE U.S. SENATE HAVE THE MORAL COURAGE TO DO THE RIGHT THING?

Last week, House Democrats and Republicans defied their self-serving track record, joined together and voted to kill the $70 billion F-22 fighter program.

Never did I expect to see members of the House unite to kill an 18 carat gold weapons program only a few wires and rivets away from being an assembly-line actuality.

This is kinda like a farmer killing his best milking cow for beef. Congress has a two-century track record of seldom seeing a weapons system it didn't want to buy. Why? Because military pork is as much a part of the American political system as red, white and blue balloons, payola and party machines.

Maybe our lawmakers have switched diets and given up pork. Or perhaps they've decided it's time they chose to do something for their country instead of taking the beltway lobbyist Yellow Brick Road. This act of heroism -- walking away from big bucks for PAC funds from defense contractors like Lockheed Martin or Boeing, the terrible twins building the $200 million a copy aircraft -- should give every American citizen great hope.

During the war with Yugoslavia, even though they were not allowed to fight according to proven Air Force doctrine, the USAF did a professional job. It wasn't our airmen's fault that the Pentagon/NATO air campaign was flawed or that the announced objective of seriously degrading the Serb military machine failed. Or that the war had to be fought from three miles up -- a dumb way to go - - because President Clinton had decreed there would be no U.S. casualties.

But the air war over Yugoslavia did show how badly stretched, bent and frayed our Air Force is. When the campaign ended, the top brass cried uncle for the first time in the Air Force's history and said it needed time out to catch its' breath and rebuild.

The message Congress took away from the war is that the Air Force needs to use what money's available to fix what's broken far more than it needs a new generation of wonder weapons. They rightly concluded that the Air Force needs to go back to basics and rebuild its existing fleet of aircraft, restock its spare parts and munitions, initiate good training programs and look after its airmen -- before they all walk out the front gate and never come back.

The F-15, which the F-22 was supposed to replace, has 15 to 20 years of flying life left on it and is still the best fighter aircraft in the world. You can buy four new and proven F-15s for the price of one untested F-22. Do the math.

But the Air Force's top brass, with their wrongheaded habit of being hooked on new toys, still want to buy the F-22. Even though it's only completed 5 percent of its flight tests, its on-board computers haven't been checked out and there have been serious problems with the plane's wings, brakes, fuselage, fuel lines and engines. In spite of these glitches, the high muckery-mucks in blue who run the Air Force today -- and will run the defense industry tomorrow once they've retired and swung through the revolving door, checking out while cashing in -- are willing to stake America's security on this seriously flawed aircraft.

Defense Secretary William Cohen, who so far has a perfect track record of being wrong on every major defense issue, laments that if the F-22 is shot down by congressional flak, the nation will be clobbered by some unnamed foe in the 21st century. But Congress has done its homework and says we'll have a "5-to-1 numerical advantage of advance fighters against our most challenging adversaries without the F-22."

Now the stage is set for our Senate to make the final decision. Our Senators are already under bombardment by the lobbyists and defense contractors. Phones are ringing off the hook, and checkbooks are on the table.

Will the Millionaires Club stand as tall as the House and vote to kill the F-22?

Stay tuned. But remember -- the majority of our senators weren't millionaires before joining that august body. Take ex Sen. Bob "Viagra" Dole. His and wife Liddy's net worth is more than $20 million, and he's only recently gotten his first non-government job -- lobbying.

THE END