GAO suggests Pentagon scale back defense plans It advises 'realistic' look at what U.S. can afford

October 14, 1997|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- The Cold War may be over, but the Pentagon still plans to build or upgrade 8,499 warplanes at a cost of $335 billion over the next few years, an effort likely to blow future budgets, a General Accounting Office study warns.

Suggesting that some major military aircraft programs should be terminated or scaled back, the GAO said the Pentagon needs to take a "realistic" look at what it can afford.

That analysis by the nonpartisan congressional investigative agency spotlights a spending squeeze that has drawn increasing criticism in Congress and among private analysts.

Facing tight future budgets, Pentagon planners have so far ducked tough choices on which weapons should be favored. Instead, they have penciled in plans for 17 different aircraft that would cost more than was spent on aircraft at the height of the Cold War.

The Pentagon "needs to bring its aircraft investment strategy into line with more realistic, long-term projections of overall defense funding," the GAO said. "Difficult decisions will need to be made about restructuring or terminating some programs."

Pentagon program plans are "often optimistic and rarely achieved," the GAO analysts noted. They said many programs don't perform as scheduled and end up billions of dollars over budget.

Among the programs evaluated by the GAO were the Air Force's F-22 stealth fighter and C-17 airlifter, the Marines' tilt-wing V-22 Osprey and the proposed Joint Strike Fighter, which is expected to cost $145 billion.

The report also mentions the F/A-18E/F SuperHornet, the Army's Comanche attack helicopter, the Apache Longbow attack chopper and the C-130 airlift and cargo planes.

While not directly evaluating each program's chances for coming in on time and on budget, the GAO did say plans to upgrade the SuperHornet, a McDonnell Douglas aircraft produced in St. Louis, should be canceled. It said the F/A-18E/F would provide only "some improvements" over the current Hornet.

The GAO also said the F-22 program should be delayed until Lockheed proves the program is viable.

It noted that there has been a history of cost growth on the program and congressional concerns about whether the aircraft is needed when compared with the expected threat.

In a written response, Pentagon officials said the Defense Department had evaluated its aircraft procurement spending early this year as part of the so-called Quadrennial Defense Review, the Pentagon's sweeping internal study that looked at the need and affordability of all of its major programs.

Pub Date: 10/14/97

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