Austin American-Statesman

Sen. Zell Miller was loud. He was aggressive. And while his speech at this month’s Republican National Convention tried to paint John Kerry as soft on defense, Miller also unwittingly exposed the utter hypocrisy that allows the Pentagon to continue wasting tens of billions of dollars per year on useless weapons systems.

If — as the Republicans claim — John Kerry is too dovish to be president because he voted to cut funding for several weapons programs, what can be said of Dick Cheney’s record when he was secretary of defense, and in particular, his four year-long effort to kill the V-22?

During his speech, Miller hectored Kerry for having “opposed the very weapons system that won the Cold War.” Miller claimed that Kerry had opposed the B-1 and B-2 bombers, as well as the F-14 and F-15 fighters, Patriot Missile, Aegis cruiser and the Strategic Defense Initiative, better known as Star Wars.

By attacking Kerry, the GOP is claiming that every weapons system that comes down the pike is worth funding and that the Pentagon’s budget which already accounts for the vast majority of the federal government’s discretionary spending should not be scrutinized.

Now let’s look at Cheney’s history. In 1989, in his first appearance before Congress as George H. W. Bush’s defense secretary, Cheney made it clear that he was going to cut Pentagon spending by a full 3 percent. He was particularly resolute in his opposition to the V-22, a tilt-rotor aircraft made by defense giant Boeing and its partner, Fort Worth-based Bell Helicopter. In fact, every year that Cheney was at the Pentagon, he zeroed out the budget for the V-22. But every year, Congress restored funding.

Despite Cheney’s opposition, the Pentagon has spent some $16 billion on the V-22. What have taxpayers received in return for that investment? Virtually nothing. Not a single V-22 has ever been used in combat. Despite nearly five decades of testing and development, the tilt-rotor concept still has not proven itself. The V-22 is still what engineers derisively call a “paper airplane.” It flies great on paper, but not very well in reality.

The V-22’s safety record is so bad that Pentagon spokesmen refuse to provide comprehensive accident statistics for it. By the end of this year, the Pentagon will have built about four dozen V-22’s. Out of that fleet, four V-22’s and one prototype have crashed. Those accidents have killed 26 Marines and four civilians.

Cheney’s belief that the V-22 used too much of what he called “unproven technology” has been proven right. The aircraft is too dangerous, too expensive, (current cost is about $100 million per copy  more than twice the cost when Cheney was at the Pentagon and four times the cost of a modern, comparable-size helicopter), too heavy and to difficult to maintain to be used in the military fleet.

Retired Air Force colonel Harry Dunn has been investigating the V-22 for more than three years. A former helicopter pilot, Dunn says the V-22 is “a crippled albatross, which will continue killing” unless it is stopped.

The abject failure of the V-22 program is a perfect example of the hypocrisy and outright fraud that pervades the Pentagon’s acquisition process a process that ignores truth in favor of pork barrel spending. But then, perhaps pork barrel politics are more important than truth. Cutting the V-22 would mean shutting down plants in Fort Worth, Amarillo and, most important, in Pennsylvania , a swing state the GOP desperately wants to win.

A few months ago, I asked Cheney’s press office to provide a comment regarding his current stance on the V-22. His spokesman replied that Cheney had not taken a position on the V-22 since he became vice president.

That’s hardly surprising. In today’s hyper-political environment, the Pentagon has been given a no-limit charge card, and few dare criticize an entity that will spend half a trillion dollars this year. Mendacity and partisanship have replaced old-fashioned conservative notions like fiscal sanity. Even more incredible is that in the case of the V-22, those qualities are preventing an honest discussion about the safety of America’s soldiers.


Contact Robert

For information on speaking engagements or other interviews.