Stealth bomber would be a mistake.
Stealth bomber would be a mistake WASHINGTON — The Air Force's fast-talking salesmen for the super- secret Stealth bomber are whining adherents in Congress by minimizing the plane's astronomical costs and clamping a lid of secrecy on its potentially serious design drawbacks. In one closed hearing after another, insiders have told us, the Air Force hucksters have assured members of Congress that the Stealth bomber will cost about the same as its chief rival, the B-l, which is already in production. The point of this maneuvering and manipulation is that Congress must soon decide whether to fund the new Stealth program or buy an additional 100 B-l bombers. Even though the B-l program is a rarity in defense procurement — ahead of schedule and under anticipated cost — conservatives and liberals alike on Capitol Hill generally like the idea of the futuristic Stealth bomber, which supposedly can penetrate Soviet air defenses by being invisible to radar. Defense Undersecretary Donald Hicks has told Congress the Pentagon wants a plane that will set the Soviets "back on their rears." What he hasn't told Congress is that likely cost overruns on the Stealth bomber could set the U.S. Treasury back on its rear. The true cost of the Stealth program is a closely held secret. Our associate Donald Goldberg has learned that the Pentagon, in a classified report ordered by Congress, predicts that the 132 Stealth bombers the brass wants will cost $36.6 billion. This is misleading at best, because it is based on 1981 dollars and doesn't include everything. When it comes time to pay for the Stealth bombers, our sources say the real price — including inflation and research and development costs — will be more like $80 billion. And that's not counting possible overruns. Even at $80 billion, Stealth would be the most expensive aircraft project in U.S. history. But the chances of cost overruns are high. Unlike the B-l, which flew thousands of hours of tests before full production began, the Stealth will go directly from drawing board to assembly line, bypassing critical tests that might uncover design Our sources estimate the cost of additional B-l bombers at about $190 million apiece; each Stealth bomber would cost about $540 million, not including research costs. And the taxpayers would be getting an untested plane rushed into production to meet a political timetable. Cost aside, insiders insist that the Stealth bomber simply won't be the plane it's cracked up to be. It will be dangerously slow and unstable, and will have a range too limited for anything but one-way suicide mis- Washington By JACK ANDERSON DALE VAN ATTA JOSEPH SPEAR Merry-Go-Bound flaws, according to our sources. Despite these obvious fiscal dangers, Air Force briefers persist in assuring Congress that the Stealth bomber will cost about the same as the B-l. Here again, the Pentagon is not telling Congress the whole truth. Research, 'development, plant construction and worker training for the B-l have already been bought and paid for. So an additional 100 B- 1s would clearly be a lot cheaper to produce than the all-new Stealth with its need for R&D, new plants and worker training. sions to Soviet targets. As if this weren't enough, even the Stealth's supporters concede that it isn't designed to elude the older, long-range radar the frugal Soviets still have in place after 25 years. CONFIDENTIAL FILE: Iran has never been known for the humane attitude of its jailers. During the shah's regime, human rights groups regularly protested the brutal treatment of political prisoners, and under the Ayatollah Khomeini the complaints have multiplied. But intelligence analysts have detected some light at the end of the dungeon corridor: Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, Khomeini's designated successor, reportedly has taken steps toward prison reform. A onetime victim of the shah's less-than- tender turnkeys, Montazeri apparently feels that the Islamic revolution is getting a bad name from its torture chambers. TWICE VICTIMIZED: Because of their obdurate state senate, an estimated 5,000 victims of asbestos-related injuries in New York are barred from claiming their share of the $2.5 billion set aside for damage claims by Johns Manville Corp., the former asbestos manufacturer. Six years in a row, the state assembly has passed a "discovery" law that would start the three-year statute of limitations running only upon discovery of asbestos-related disease, which often comes years after exposure. But the senate, reportedly under pressure from other companies that manufacture chemicals with long-range poisonous effects, kills the legislation each year. MINI-EDITORIAL: The effort of White House aide Pat Buchanan to impugn the patriotism of those members of Congress who oppose aid to the Nicaraguan contras resulted in a richly deserved backfire. Now some of the administration's supporters — and some distinguished media figures who ought to know better — are trying to say that Buchanan's vitriolic attack on those who would choose "Ortega and communism" over "Reagan and democracy" didn't really question the patriotism of administration opponents. The truth is, it was a very low blow and ought to be ruled a foul. Even Joe McCarthy was open about his red-baiting. United Feature Syndicate, Inc.