7 Ex-Defense Secretaries Back Buying More B-2s : Military: Clinton is urged to order more of the Northrop Grumman jets. Lockheed opposes the plan.
Seven former defense secretaries wrote President Clinton Wednesday to say he should consider buying more B-2 bombers, the “stealthy” or radar-eluding Air Force jets built by Century City-based Northrop Grumman Corp.
“We are writing you to express our concern about the impending termination of the B-2 bomber production line,” said the two-page letter, signed by former Pentagon chiefs Richard Cheney, Caspar Weinberger, Frank Carlucci, Harold Brown, James Schlesinger, Donald H. Rumsfeld and Melvin Laird.
“We urge you to consider the purchase of more such aircraft while the option still exists,” their letter said. Brown is the only one to hold office in a Democratic Administration.
Every dime spent on B-2s in new, leaner Pentagon budgets could remove funds from other Air Force projects, especially the F-22 fighter. The F-22’s main contractor, Lockheed Corp., opposes Northrop Grumman’s proposal to spend $12 billion for 20 more B-2s, beyond the 20 already planned.
The letter was circulated by former Republican congressman James Courter of New Jersey, chairman of the defense arm of the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, a nonprofit organization that promotes preservation of the nation’s defense industrial base. The group has no connection to Northrop Grumman or other contractors for the B-2, which is built in Southern California.
The only former defense secretary who declined to sign the letter was Les Aspin, who served during Clinton’s first year in office. The group didn’t ask Elliott Richardson or Clark Clifford for their support, and couldn’t reach Robert MacNamara.
Defense industry executives said it is the only case they recall of so many retired defense secretaries supporting a terminated weapons system.
Defense Secretary William J. Perry has praised the B-2’s prowess but says there’s no money for more.
The first 20 B-2s cost $44 billion, or $2.2 billion each, and they were a target of liberal Democrats, especially Rep. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Oakland), former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
The 20 additional B-2s Northrop Grumman proposes would cost $595 million each. The cost would be lower because the huge price tag for developing its new technologies--it has 1.8 million lines of computer code--would be spread over more jets.
Many in Congress’ new Republican majority say the Administration is not spending enough on new weapons, and Northrop Grumman is hoping they will seize on the B-2 as an issue. Many Republicans want to reverse Administration spending cuts in next-generation missile defenses and Perry’s decision to ax the Army’s $20-billion Comanche helicopter program.