Published May 1975 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd Military Eyeing Cheaper Weapons The U.S. Defense Department, reflecting the concern of the Congress and the people over the spiraling costs of military equipment, is taking a new look at less expensive weapons. Inflation has played a major role in the efforts to reduce the costs of our military arsenal. A World War II fighter such as the P-47 carried a price tag of $89,000, while today's comparable plane, the F-15, costs $15 million. And of the $104 billion Defense Budget requested for fiscal year 1976, 55 percent would go for pay and allowances of personnel compared with 43.3 percent in 1964. Yet, another pertinent fact is that cheaper weapons proved effective during the Arab-Israel fighting in the Middle East. About 1,000 American built tanks costing $400,- 000 apiece were knocked out by the Soviet-made RPG-7 shoulder-fired rockets that cost about $75 each; and a $400,000 Russian "cruise missile" sank an Israeli destroyer with a replacement cost of almost $1 billion. In all, the cost to the United States to resupply Israel was $2.2 billion, or more than $700 million for every week of the fighting. There is no doubt that American military equipment is the best in the world, and that sophisticated weapons are needed. Indeed, it was our significant edge in nuclear armaments that convinced the Russians to back down during the Cuban missile crisis. But too heavy a reliance on complex weaponry can prove unnecessarily costly-not only in terms of dollars, but also in terms of military effectiveness. The $15 million F-15, and the $20 million F-14 are prime examples. They are the most sophisticated fighter planes in the world, and, in a one-on-one battle with their Soviet counterpart, the MIG-21, they could win almost every time. However, if built in the United States, the MIG-21 would cost $2 million, which means seven MIG-21s could be put in the air for every American F-15, and 10 of the Soviet planes could be sent out to do battle with a single American F-14. Obviously, there is strength in numbers, and the Defense Department is realizing that less expensive weapons could provide the numbers without lessening America's strength.