Stealth Attack on the Budget


When Rep. John Kasich, the conservative Ohio Republican, and Rep. Ronald Dellums, the liberal California Democrat, agree on something, the House ought to pay attention. Especially when they are supported by the civilian leadership of the Pentagon as well as the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Not to mention the former Bush administration. The issue they agree on? The Air Force doesn't need 20 more B2 Stealth bombers at $1.5 billion each.

Usually attempts to force unwanted weaponry on the military is fueled by legislators from districts where those products are made. This time, however, the motivation is philosophical: The House National Security Committee (formerly the Armed Services Committee, significantly renamed) is revising the Clinton administration's defense budget to fit its own view of the world and potential threats against this country. Where the administration wants to emphasize training and maintenance, the committee wants to renew the heavy weapons procurement days of the Reagan administration.

So what is John Kasich doing aligned with Ron Dellums against his ideological soul brothers? Simple. He's chairman of the House Budget Committee, pledged to cut federal spending and achieve a balanced budget by 2002. He doesn't think he can get there while shelling out $30 billion on bombers the Air Force says it doesn't need and can't afford to operate. Mr. Dellums, a long-standing foe of fat defense budgets, agrees. So should the entire House when it votes on this issue soon.

Although the House Republicans who are pushing for the additional bombers insist they are needed to bolster U.S. defenses in a world full of potential threats, the experts disagree. The B2 is a highly sophisticated, radar-avoiding weapon designed for one mission: penetrating the elaborate air defenses of a powerful Soviet Union in a nuclear exchange. But the Cold War is over, the Soviet Union no longer exists, what's left is no longer a superpower and is dismantling its nuclear arsenal.

A think tank supported by the Pentagon has concluded that funds would be better spent on smart bombs, the laser or radar guided armament that proved its value in the Persian Gulf war. Ironically, the House committee rejected the Navy's pleas for a similar amount for a new nuclear submarine. That would permit one of the two shipyards capable of constructing the subs to stay in business and retain its skilled work force, an argument that has its flaws but still makes more sense than doubling the Air Force's Stealth strength.

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