January 16, 2001
WASHINGTON -- As additional elements of President-elect George W. Bush's national security agenda have begun to emerge over the past several weeks, it has become clear that the new administration will soon face some tough choices. If it wants to able to afford a national missile defense system and a pay raise for members of the armed forces, it will have to consider scrapping some of the unnecessary , pork-barrel weapons projects that have long been favored by some members of Congress.
A good place to start would be with the cancellation of the the controversial V-22 Osprey aircraft project.
Just last month, 4 Marines were killed when an Osprey crashed during a training mission in North Carolina. Last April, 19 Marines died in an Osprey crash. In the wake of these tragedies, even the Marines, ardent supporters of the project, asked that production of additional aircraft be halted. What they should be asking for is the cancellation of the entire project.
Since 1991, 30 Marines have been killed in Osprey crashes. The two most recent aircraft to crash were from an initial batch of 10 delivered to the Marines. That's a 20 percent failure rate -- clearly an unacceptable level for our armed forces.
There's nothing new in calling for the cancellation of the V-22. Ironically, Vice-president-elect Dick Cheney, while he was serving as secretary of defense in 1989, tried to terminate the program due to its rising cost and the fact that these new aircraft provided only incremental improvements compared to those they would replace. Three years later, Congress restored the money for the program and threatened to sue Cheney if he tried to kill it again. It was then-candidate Bill Clinton who campaigned on restoring funding the Osprey.
Will the incoming administration once again try to kill this flawed project?
Working against such a step is the fact that few if any Pentagon projects ever get canceled on the eve of production. In addition, the Marines are adamant about the need for this type of aircraft to fulfill their future operational strategy. And finally, since since the V-22 is one of the few weapons programs designed especially for the Marines, they see the program's procurement as a matter of pride and autonomy in the corps.
And most importantly, the influential Pennsylvania and Texas Congressional delegations, where this aircraft is built, will stop at nothing to protect the money and jobs this program brings to their districts and states.
Or course, such considerations should not lead to the purchase of the aircraft. Rather, there should be an objective assessment of the plane's cost related to its capabilities and safety.
On that score, the Pentagon's Director of Operational Testing and Evaluation, Philip Coyle, recently blasted the V-22 as being "operationally not suitable, " noting that the aircraft can only successfully complete its mission 57 percent of the time.
Unfortunately, the Osprey so far has been immune from such objective assessments. And at $83 million a piece, the United States appears likely to end up with an expensive, deadly boondoggle.
The Marines need new transport aircraft, but they do not need this one. The Bush administration needs to terminate Cold War-era weapons programs in order to pay for what it sees as more pressing military needs. The courageous and correct action to address both these needs is the cancellation of the V-22 Osprey program.
Luke Warren is the media director and an analyst with the
Council for a Livable World Education