DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
24 March 98

FOR WHOM THE PENTAGON BELL TOLLS

The new F-18 Super Hornet fighter looks like a bird, but experts in the know say it sure doesn't fly like one. Many say it's an expensive crash waiting to happen.

But when it comes to the Pentagon throwing lots of taxpayer money at a new military toy, performance has never been a big deal. The Pentagon and the defense racketeers have been pushing problematic military hardware into production since long before Stormin' Norman was a gleam in his daddy's eye.

Let's face it: The Pentagon's cash register bell doesn't ring to give our warriors good GI-proof gear. It rings for the rats sitting on the defense corporations' boards and their cronies, the Pentagon brass -- active and retired, military and civilian -- whom, so many, have sold their souls for a buck.

Remember the M-16 rifle in Vietnam? It was a jammer that put more names on the Wall than sniper fire. Or the Bradley fighting vehicle, known by the grunts as a "flaming coffin?" Or the $2 billion B-2 bomber which is just peachy keen for air shows but hasn't made a war yet?

Well, the new Super Hornet is more of the same scam. The newest version of the earlier model F-18 Hornet can out-climb, out-turn and out-accelerate the so called Super Hornet. In fact, the earlier model F-18 is vastly outperforming the wobbly, gold-plated flying machine it's supposed to replace.

To make matters worse, the wing of the Super Hornet suddenly drops in flight. During recent flight tests of the modification to solve the dropping problem, the $74 million aircraft developed a shaking problem in straight and level flight.

Imagine driving along in your new car and suddenly it decides to hang a left or starts shaking like a chandelier at the epicenter of an earthquake.

Our pilots could be forced to fly this turkey just as our soldiers were compelled to carry the M-16 rifle in Vietnam. They're in a profession where it's belong to the club or go find a job.

During Desert Storm, the "flaming coffin" Bradley would have been a soldier-killer too had not Air Force Colonel Jim Burton blown the whistle and forced the Army to fix it before full production began. He saved thousands of lives, but it cost him his career.

Sure there are specifications governing new equipment. But just as the Army did on the Bradley, the Navy brass have been doing on the Super Hornet. The minute the Super Hornet flunks a test, the Navy lowers the performance bar

This aircraft is a mediocrity. It doesn't meet original specifications, but the Navy wants to give Boeing the dough anyway. Last year, taxpayers laid out $2.1 billion for the first 12 flawed Super Hornets. By the end of this month, the Navy intends to release another $2.1 billion for 20 more of these turkeys -- because it's business as usual with our Pentagon porkers.

Will our congressional watchdogs bark? Doubt it. Boeing kicked big bucks into the congressional coffers last year.

Hey, it's not the Navy's money anyway. It's the taxpayers, and they're obsessed with Monica Lewinsky rather than with what the Pentagon does with their dough --or the lives of their loved ones.

The Navy says requirements for the release of funding have been satisfied and the Super Hornet is ready to buzz. If you believe that, you believe in the tooth fairy.

Meanwhile, our troops don't have the money to train and maintain. An Air Force colonel says his unit's so broke they can't buy ammo for pistol training.

Congress must stop looking the other way when its own auditors -- the General Accounting Office ­ recommend that production be halted until the Navy proves it has fixed the Super Hornet, which the GAO just proposed.

It's about time the secretary of defense asked some hard questions as well. Before any more money is wasted, he should order the Inspector General to determine why this aircraft is going into its second year of production when it wasn't ready to enter into production at all.

And besides, what's the rush? There's no enemy out there that our pilots can't handle for the next decade with what they've got.

The end