The Navy -- after being attacked in Wisconsin, Texas and Michigan as it vainly tried for years to build a communications net on one of those states has now been bitten hard by Congress' watchdog, the General Accounting Office.
The grid the Navy wants to build to communicate with submarines, concluded the GAO, would be a waste of $283 million.
A secret, more detailed version of Gao's public report on the Navy's long-sought grid for submarines is making headlines in Lavine Newapaper Group papers circulating in Wisconsin -- the state where the Navy would still like to build part of the grid.
The Navy has changed both the blueprint and name of the submarine communication system in hopes of winning over the public. The grid was first called Sanguine, then Seafarer and now Elf, for extremely low frequency ELF, a scaled-down version of other ones, would be two connected sites in Wisconsin and Michigan.
Navy admirals have been telling environmentalists, worried farmers, Congress and three presidents that the system is needed for sending radio messages deep into the ocean to reach the submarines patrolling there.
Radio waves from the grid, according to a thick pile of scientific reports written under Navy auspices, would not do any of the harmful things alleged -- such as eletrocute earthworms, ring telephones, kill calves or scare away deer.
But, the Navy stresses, the radio grid would make it harder than ever for the Soviets to find U S submarines. The subs would no longer have to rise close to the surface to receive messages.
Just as the Navy at long last seemed to be making headway with that argument for elf, the detail of Gao's secret report appeared in Wisconsin papers.
A public version of the Elf report, with security deletions, were released by GAO last month. These are the major findings spread over the secret and unclassified versions of the GAO report on ELF.
Going ahead with ELF "cannot be justified" because the Navy already has enough communications systems to reach submarines and the proposed one might not work anyhow.
"Some level of research" on ELF should be continued but actual construction of the system for $283 million is not worth it until " a clear need" is demonstrated.
Although the Navy has said it wants to use ELF to communicate with attack as well as missile submarines, "there is no evidence" that attack submarine operations "will be seriously hampered without it"
Because of "inadequate budgeting and planning by the Navy," the fleet of C130 planes, called TACAMO [Take Charge and Move Out], which trail antennas behind them to communicate with submarines, has fallen into disrepair.
Improvements in antennas that submarines trail behind them when they wish to receive messages have undercut the Navy argument that ELF is vital for command and control.
The GAO, in both the secret and unclassified versions of its reports on ELF, recommends to the secretary of defense that he "terminate any plans" to build Elf or receive equipment for it.
President Carter, who promised during his 1976 election campaign that he would not force people to accept the grid, has kept ELF at a modest development pace, approving $13 million for it in his fiscal 1980 budget.
The Pentagon deleted, on Security grounds, portions of the secret report which documented how much the Navy had allowed its TACAMO planes for communicating with submarines to deteriorate.
The public version also deletes most of the examples of what William J. Perry, Pentagon research director, termed "pertinent errors" in GAO's secret draft report. Perry said "we do not concur" with GAO's findings on ELF.
Wrote Perry to the GAO:
"The capability of ELF communications to penetrate sea water to deep depths is unique. Therefore, to categorize it as duplicative of existing systems is inaccurate. Twenty years of research on ELF have already documented the technical feasibility and environmental compatibility of an ELF system. Although the specific design of the system has changed, its basic operational application to improve strategic submarine force command and control has not changed . . ."