The Pentagon Paradox: The Development of the F-18 Hornet

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Naval Institute Press, 1993 - History - 445 pages
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Did the U.S. Navy avoid Congress's explicit direction to "navalize" the winning design in a flyoff competition - by lying to Congress with the argument that the winner was not carrier capable - and then develop the losing aircraft into an even worse fighter for its carrier squadrons? To find the answer James Stevenson, an experienced aviation writer, dug through government files and interviewed key players to present this hard-hitting, behind-the-scenes account of the development of one of the Navy's current front-line aircraft. His investigation exposes the politics of Pentagon weapons procurement, a process that pits service against service, the military against Congress, admirals against generals, pilots against engineers, hard liners against reformers. This book provides a developmental history of the F-18 Hornet from drawing board to its results in Desert Storm. It is the story of a multi-billion-dollar aircraft-design war between those military officers who insist that America's interests will be protected best by sophisticated aircraft, even if America can afford fewer of them, and a group known as the "Fighter Mafia", who claim that larger numbers have always won in warfare and that for equal dollars America can only produce greater numbers if each one is less sophisticated. He shows that by picking the YF-17 - and renaming the F-17 as the F-18 - over the clearly superior YF-16, the Navy antagonized the Air Force, Congress, and its own F-14 community, and sparked a major legal battle. Undeterred, the Navy took the light, cheap YF-17 and loaded it with technology and weight, which produced an F-18 that has less maneuverability, less acceleration, a range no better than the1952-vintage A-4, and costs almost three times as much as the F-16. From its first flight in 1978, the F-18 performance continued to degrade. Nevertheless, in 1992 the Navy asked for additional money to modify the F-18 as the F-18E/F. This request was in reality funding for a brand-new aircraft, which Stevenson calls the F-19, designed to get back to the original requirements and help bail out the financially troubled McDonnell Douglas. In this highly readable study, Stevenson takes the reader into the Pentagon's corridors of power, where test results are distorted, history rewritten, and requirements changed to match aircraft performance, and the public's trust and treasure squandered. Fascinating yet sobering, The Pentagon Paradox will appeal to everyone interested in the military establishment, the future of U.S. forces, and how tax dollars are spent.

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