Lawmakers Back Tomahawk Missiles
Jul. 07, 1999
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Ignoring the Navy's wishes, two members of the House Armed Services Committee are pushing to reopen a closed assembly line of Tomahawk cruise missiles in a move that would benefit a company in one of the lawmakers' districts.
The two lawmakers, Reps. James V. Hansen, R-Utah, and Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., say they simply want the Navy to keep a larger reserve of the sea-launched Block III Tomahawk missiles, which won accolades in the Persian Gulf and Yugoslavia campaigns.
They said their efforts have nothing to with the fact that engines for the soon-to-be-obsolete missile are made in Hansen's Utah district.
``I see them being shot all over the place and nothing is filling the gap,'' Hansen said.
The Navy, however, began phasing out the Block III missiles last year in favor of a new generation of Tactical Tomahawks due out in 2003. The service believes it has enough Block III missiles to wait until then and believes reopening the line wouldn't be cost-effective, said Lt. Megan Mariman, a Navy spokeswoman.
The new missiles will cost $569,000 each, compared with $1.5 million for the Block III.
``For members to throw money to their constituents for parochial reasons is an example of politically motivated waste,'' said retired Rear Adm. Eugene Carroll, who now works for the Center for Defense Information, a watchdog group on military matters.
Congress often adds costly items _ derided by critics as ``pork'' _ to the defense budget that haven't been requested by the Pentagon.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a GOP presidential hopeful, compiles a list each year. Recent examples include $18 million for automatic grenade launchers and $15 million for an anti-ship missile decoy system.
The price tag for the Block III Tomahawks would be $90 million. That's how much the House Armed Services Committee authorized in May to reopen the production line. The House Appropriations Committee must decide whether to recommend the measure to the full House.
The Senate didn't include any money for Block III missiles in the appropriations bill it passed.
The Navy last year ended production of the missile, which was used in the NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in a successful effort to avoid U.S. and allied casualties.
The missile's motors are made by Williams International at its Ogden, Utah, plant. Williams lost money in 1998 when the missile manufacturer _ then Hughes Missile Systems Co. _ persuaded the Navy to cancel the last 100 Block III missiles and use the money for the new Tactical Tomahawks.
Williams suffered another loss when Teledyne Ryan Aeronautical was selected to make the engines for the Tactical Tomahawks.
The Navy estimates that Williams would earn $170,000 per missile if the Block III line is reopened. It would take 18 to 24 months to produce the additional missiles, a timetable nearly as long as the scheduled debut for the new generation of the missile.
Sam Williams, whose company makes the engines, has contributed $8,500 to Hansen since 1986, according to federal campaign records.
Williams said his company ``has a lot of business'' at the Ogden plant making engines for business jets and doesn't need the missile business. ``But we're ready to support our military,'' he added.
He said his staff in Washington is ``acquainted with'' members of Congress and ``wanted to make clear our support for both'' Tomahawk versions.
Hansen said he didn't pressure anyone to help Williams. ``They came to me and said, 'We're running out of these things.' I did try to alert (defense officials) they would have problems,'' the congressman said.
Hansen said he told fellow committee members ``that the inventory was going down. I didn't mention the Block III's. If they (the Williams company) make money, more power to them.''
Hansen had a powerful ally in Hunter, chairman of the military procurement subcommittee.
Hunter said he supported reopening the Tomahawk line because ``we didn't like the Navy's judgment on this thing.'' He accused the service of taking ``a dangerous gamble'' that ``there will not be a conflict that consumes a large number of Tomahawk missiles.''
The Navy projects it would need 4,000 Tomahawks in supply if it were forced to fight two wars simultaneously. After firing more than 200 Tomahawks in Yugoslavia, about 2,000 are left _ with 600 to be remanufactured and added to the supply.
The sea-launched cruise missiles are in much greater supply than the air-launched cruise missiles at the Air Force, whose inventory fell to as low as 120 during the Yugoslavia bombing campaign.
The Navy says the new Tactical Tomahawk is worth the wait. It can fly an additional 300 miles, be reprogrammed in flight and take pictures just before impact to determine whether the target was hit.