The new F-18 Super Hornet fighter looks like a bird, but experts in the know say it sure doesn’t fly like one. Many say it’s an expensive crash waiting to happen.

But when it comes to the Pentagon throwing lots of taxpayer money at a new military toy, performance has never been a big deal. The Pentagon and the defense racketeers have been pushing problematic military hardware into production since long before Stormin’ Norman was a gleam in his daddy’s eye.

Let’s face it: The Pentagon’s cash register bell doesn’t ring to give our warriors good GI-proof gear. It rings for the rats sitting on the defense corporations’ boards and their cronies, the Pentagon brass — active and retired, military and civilian — of whom so many have sold their souls for a buck.

Remember the M-16 rifle in Vietnam? It was a jammer that put more names on the Wall than sniper fire. Or the Bradley fighting vehicle, known by the grunts as a “flaming coffin?” Or the $2 billion B-2 bomber which is just peachy keen for air shows but hasn’t made a war yet?

Well, the new Super Hornet is more of the same scam. The newest version of the earlier model F-18 Hornet can out-climb, out-turn and out-accelerate the so called Super Hornet. In fact, the wobbly, gold-plated flying machine is being vastly outperformed by the earlier model F-18 it’s supposed to replace.

To make matters worse, the wing of the Super Hornet suddenly drops in flight. During recent flight tests of the modification to solve the dropping problem, the $74 million aircraft developed a shaking problem in straight and level flight.

Imagine driving along in your new car and suddenly it decides to hang a left or starts shaking like a chandelier at the epicenter of an earthquake.

Our pilots could be forced to fly this turkey just as our soldiers were compelled to carry the M-16 rifle in Vietnam. They’re in a profession where it’s belong to the club or go find a job.

During Desert Storm, the “flaming coffin” Bradley would have been a soldier-killer too, had not Air Force Colonel Jim Burton blown the whistle and forced the Army to fix it before full production began. He saved thousands of lives, but it cost him his career.

Sure there are specifications governing new equipment. But just as the Army did on the Bradley, the Navy brass have been doing on the Super Hornet. The minute the Super Hornet flunks a test, the Navy lowers the performance bar.

This aircraft is a mediocrity. It doesn’t meet original specifications, but the Navy wants to give Boeing the dough anyway. Last year, taxpayers laid out $2.1 billion for the first 12 flawed Super Hornets. By the end of this month, the Navy intends to release another $2.1 billion for 20 more of these turkeys — because it’s business as usual with our Pentagon porkers.

Will our congressional watchdogs bark? Doubt it. Boeing kicked big bucks into the congressional coffers last year.

Hey, it’s not the Navy’s money anyway. It’s the taxpayers, and they’re obsessed with Monica Lewinsky rather than with what the Pentagon does with their dough — or the lives of their loved ones.

The Navy says requirements for the release of funding have been satisfied and the Super Hornet is ready to buzz. If you believe that, you believe in the tooth fairy.

Meanwhile, our troops don’t have the money to train and maintain. An Air Force colonel says his unit’s so broke they can’t buy ammo for pistol training.

Congress must stop looking the other way when its own auditors — the General Accounting Office — recommend that production be halted until the Navy proves it has fixed the Super Hornet, which the GAO just proposed.

It’s about time the secretary of defense asked some hard questions as well. Before any more money is wasted, he should order the inspector general to determine why this aircraft is going into its second year of production when it wasn’t ready to enter into production at all.

And besides, what’s the rush? There’s no enemy out there that our pilots can’t handle for the next decade with what they’ve got.

Hack Notes

Tonight (Wednesday, 25 March), I’ll be singing for my supper at New York City’s Union League Club.

My subject will be the status of U.S. military readiness.

For almost three years, I’ve been getting the real readiness skinny from Chiefs and Sergeants and from many junior and a few senior officers. They’ve been shouting: HELP. WE’RE GOING DOWN THE DRAIN. WE’RE ALMOST BROKEN. MORALE IS LOWER THAN WHALE TURDS. THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST ARE WALKING. IT AIN’T ANY FUN ANYMORE!

These thousands of reports tracked with what I’d seen on my walk-abouts. I reported these alarming conditions to the nation through what seems like zillions of radio and TV shows, my weekly newspaper column, this newsletter, my column in SOLDIER OF FORTUNE, other writings such as HAZARDOUS DUTY, and through the good offices of the recently activated SOLDIERS FOR THE TRUTH.

Throughout this long campaign, many of the top serving brass seem to refuse to comprehend that their troops are:

Doing too much with too little and thus are working harder, but accomplishing less.

Not getting the right training time in, so their once sharp Desert Storm combat-readiness edge has become dull.

Short spare parts, which is forcing them to cannibalize gear. Taking parts from A to get B up and running and then putting the parts back on A creates double work, frustrates the troops and puts excessive wear on the parts.

Away from home too much in places like Bosnia, the Gulf and doing peace stuff or fighting the Drug War — which is killing family life and causing married couples to say, “This isn’t what we signed up for. What about that job Daddy or Ol’ Fred offered”? Remember, 70 percent of the force is married.

This situation has caused a massive exodus of great talent. Senior NCOs — the very backbone of the U.S. military — and O-3s and O-4s are hanging it up in wild numbers.

The USAF alone lost 775 pilots in the first five months of FY 98 at a cost of about $6 million each to train.

Middle level NCOs are not re-enlisting, leaving key jobs to be done by inexperienced lower rankers.

Thanks to folks like yourself, Congress is now aware of this problem. But they’re having a hard time working out the mismatch from what the Indians are saying and what they’re hearing and seeing, as opposed to the four stars’ chants that everything is A OK.

What worries me is Congress will conclude that the fix to the readiness problem is to pump more money into the already bloated establishment (defense and intelligence runs the nation almost $300 billion a year which is about what the rest of the world combined spends on the military).

Of course, this will be good for the Porkers but won’t solve the more fundamental problems which are outlined in the back of HAZARDOUS DUTY along with recommended solutions.

Our armed forces desperately need to be streamlined. Congress needs to make basic reform happen to eliminate the enormous waste, duplication and redundancy. Such reforms would eventually free up $100 billion a year that could be used to make America stronger.

Congress also needs to have a hard look at how senior leaders are selected and what’s happening to discipline, hard training and the fast disappearing warrior ethic.

Congress also must examine each mission before it becomes an OPORD, and seriously look at all the social experiments such as gender-norming and affirmative action. These PC programs are hurting the Force just as much as over-commitment and the Defense Department’s putting defense dollars into pork projects rather than into the right stuff such as basic war-fighting gear and training.

Defense Secretary William Cohen is scheduled to follow me at the Union League Club next Wednesday night. Hopefully, my talk will allow the members to be armed with the right size rocks to toss at him if he replays the Pentagon mantra that EVERYTHING IS JUST JAKE IN OUR ARMED FORCES.

Keep five yards,

— Hack

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