Military misled Congress on weapons, GAO finds Costs understated, benefits overstated

June 28, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Government investigators have concluded that military officials misled Congress about the cost, performance and necessity of many of the most expensive weapons systems built in the 1980s for nuclear war against the Soviet Union.

The Pentagon understated the cost of nuclear missiles by billions of dollars; it deliberately overstated the radar-evading ability of a new generation of nuclear bombers; and it exaggerated threats posed by Soviet weapons and defenses, according to secret reports of a three-year study by the General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress.

The reports describe misrepresentations by military officers to preserve weapons programs that the investigators concluded the nation did not need. Present and former defense officials have vigorously denied any misrepresentation.

Unclassified summaries of the reports will be discussed in a news conference today by Sen. John Glenn, his aides said. The Ohio Democrat is chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, which commissioned the studies.

The issue of whether the Soviet threat and the capabilities of new U.S. weapons were inflated was debated extensively in the 1980s, during the biggest military buildup in U.S. history. The new reports trace a pattern of exaggeration and deception in the way the Pentagon presented the progress of the buildup.

The GAO investigators said Congress decided to spend up to $350 billion on nuclear weapons systems, including the B-1B and B-2 "Stealth" nuclear bombers, cruise missiles and the MX intercontinental ballistic missiles, partly on the basis of inflated assessments, inaccurate testimony and misleading reports.

Today, the B-1B fleet is grounded by mechanical and electronic trouble, the B-2 has yet to pass its flight tests and the role of nuclear missiles in defense has been diminished by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Caspar W. Weinberger, secretary of defense from 1981 to 1987, disputed the investigators' findings in an interview, as did Pentagon officials and spokesmen.

"There was never any concealment of any kind," Mr. Weinberger said from his home in Maine. "There never was the slightest suggestion we gave Congress false information to persuade the Congress to give us something we didn't need."

The investigators found otherwise. Their analysis of the new weapons systems found "dubious support for claims of their high performance, insufficient and often unrealistic testing, understated cost, incomplete or unrepresentative reporting, lack of systematic comparison against the systems they were to replace and unconvincing rationales for their development in the first place," an assistant U.S. comptroller general, Eleanor Chelimsky, said in an unclassified summary of the classified reports.

The reports concluded that the Pentagon created an exaggerated image of American vulnerability to a Soviet nuclear attack in secret studies that were shown to select members of Congress in 1981 and helped fuel the military buildup of the Reagan administration.

The buildup accelerated in October 1981, when President Ronald Reagan and Mr. Weinberger announced their "strategic modernization" program to rebuild every one of the nation's major air-land-and sea-based nuclear-weapons systems at once.

Today, only the new sea leg of that triad, the Trident D-5 submarine-launched missile, has lived up to expectations, the GAO concluded.

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