$114 million contractto build three more Global Hawk high-altitude unmanned surveillance aircraft was announced back in September, despite the Air Force not even wanting them.
Facing budget cuts and wanting to save some cash (about $US2.5 billion over five years), the Air Force was planning to stop buying the pricey — and rather unreliable — drones and mothball the remainder of the fleet in favour of the battle-tested and accomplished U2 spy plane.
“The Block 30 [Global Hawk aircraft] is not operationally effective,” the Pentagon’s top testing official had declared in a blunt May 2011 report, according to The Center for Public Integrity.
But the Pentagon was no match for forces on Capitol Hill, as an article written by W.J. Hennigan in the Los Angeles Times points out:
Northrop responded sharply, saying the U-2 “places pilots in danger, has limited flight duration and provides limited sensor capacity.”
In the end, the Air Force didn’t win that skirmish. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Santa Clarita), whose congressional district includes Palmdale, jumped in to rescue the project. Congress restored the funding, and last month Northrop received a $US114-million contract to build three more drones, saving thousands of jobs.
“I think these planes have proven their capabilities,” McKeon told The Times, “and will continue to show their worth over time.”
McKeon, who also belongs to the House Unmanned Systems Caucus which lists one of its missions as “actively support[ing] further development and acquisition of more systems,” has received $US136,900 in campaign contributions from Northrup since 2004, according to Open Secrets.
But it’s not the only project enjoying protection from lawmakers.
From The Center for Public Integrity:
The battle over the Global Hawk is one of many in which a major defence contractor and its influential friends in Congress have forced the military to spend money on hardware it doesn’t want. An Army proposal in 2011 to stop refurbishing the M1 Abrams tank to save $US3 billion was blocked by the same House and Senate defence panels in response to the lobbying muscle of the tank manufacturer, General Dynamics.
Then there’s the F-35 program — at $US400 billion the most expensive weapon system in U.S. history — which has been a plagued with problems but deemed “too big to kill,” according to Bloomberg.
That’s mainly because work on building the aircraft supports 133,000 jobs and is spread across 45 states.
“It’s got a lot of political protection,” Winslow Wheeler, a director at the Project on Government Oversight’s Center for Defence Information in Washington, told Bloomberg. “In that environment, very, very few members of Congress are willing to say this is an unaffordable dog and we need to get rid of it.”
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