Flashback: the original US Air Force acquisition scandal

Ike Eisenhower got it wrong when he called it the “military-industrial complex”. It’s really the military-industrial-and-congressional complex, and each component plays an equal part in the long history of flubs and scandals involving the process of developing and buying weapons.

At least, that’s the message of a book I just finished called “The C-5A Scandal”, by Berkeley Rice. Don’t rush to your bookstore. This book was published in 1971, but used copies are still available for sale.

To sum up, the C-5A scandal of the late-1960s was really a “perfect storm” of acquisition crimes: an overtly suspicious contract award to Lockheed even though Boeing won the evaluation; cost overruns that ballooned by 300% beyond the original estimates; an insider trading investigation; a large defense contractor on the brink of insolvency; a powerful Congressman who fought colleagues seeking accountability; and, finally, a host of technical problems with the aircraft itself, including a wing prone to cracking. In the end, Lockheed was bailed out with extra government cash and loans and the air force got its prized strategic airlifter.

I’ll skip to the last page. Berkeley writes: “It’s troubles had little to do with the plane itself. Rather, they are the natural result of the military-industrial-congressional system that produced it. Unfortunately, most of what happened to the C-5A happens to all military procurement programs. C-5As will continue to happen unless the public demands a change in the system. Until then, the public will have no choice but to continue paying the bills.”

I think you may have a point, Mr. Berkeley.

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2 Responses to Flashback: the original US Air Force acquisition scandal

  1. J. 28 August, 2007 at 1:31 pm #

    The more things change… Save this for the C-17 debate next summer, when Boeing threatens to shut down the line unless they get more orders.

  2. Stephen Trimble 29 August, 2007 at 7:55 pm #

    Well, as a former badged member of the pack you speak of, I can both sympathise with and dispute your point. I can swear that no member of the aforementioned pack — even the “famous” ones — are paid well enough to think of buying a Jaguar casually.
    The Pentagon beat enriches the ego, not the wallet.
    But I agree that some members of the Pentagon press pool can be overly-jealous of their privileged access to the folks in power.
    Of course, it’s not entirely irrational for them to behave in that manner, but I can see how it would be viewed as over-bearing.
    I will say that there are some darn good journalists working for the MSM in that building, and I sometimes wish that the Capitol Hill or White House press pools could be so well-stocked with talent.

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