The Cold War may be ending, but some attempts to scuttle weapons designed for it ran afoul of old-fashioned pork-barrel politics in the 101st Congress.
The lesson for the reformers was that home-state jobs and defense contracts can count for more than an abstract idea when it comes to drafting military budgets.
One of the best examples was the last-minute maneuvering that preserved full funding for the Air Force's Short-Range Attack Missile-Tactical (SRAM-T), a nuclear weapon originally intended to deter Soviet and Warsaw Pact aggression in Europe.
Influential legislators from West Virginia, Utah and Washington, all with home-state interests in the missile, teamed up to protect it in the 1991 defense spending bill.
The SRAM-T is part of a broader plan to upgrade NATO's nuclear deterrent that began in the 1980s, before political upheavals in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Mounted on Europe-based U.S. fighter planes such as the F-15E and the F-111, the SRAM-T would be capable of delivering a 100-kiloton warhead to targets 250 miles away in the Soviet Union. Pilots and planes would be able to "stand off" and fire the 10-foot 5-inch long missile at distant targets without having to penetrate dense air defenses.
The Air Force and NATO commander Gen. John R. Galvin want the missile, and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has indicated support. But changing political conditions have made it controversial in NATO and in the congressional defense committees. No NATO country has publicly agreed to permit deployment of the missile, and the policy-making House Armed Services Committee this year withheld all of the $118 million sought by the Bush administration. After a conference with the Senate Armed Services Committee, $35 million was authorized.
But the final defense spending bill, which was drafted by the House and Senate Appropriations committees and passed by both houses of Congress, provided the $118 million sought by the administration. A separate appropriations bill authorized $15 million for construction of an Energy Department facility to produce the warhead and earmarked additional money for testing it at a Nevada site next year.
The key players were Rep. Norman D. Dicks (D-Wash.), whose state is headquarters for the Boeing Corp., the prime contractor for the SRAM-T; and Sens. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Jake Garn (D-Utah), in whose states the Hercules Corp. is developing key components of the missile. Byrd is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a member of the defense appropriations subcommittee.
For local communities with an interest in SRAM-T, diplomatic and strategic considerations took a back seat to the need to preserve jobs and economic stability in the 1990s.
For Boeing, a corporation with billions of dollars in backlogged aircraft orders, the fate of SRAM-T will not have a major effect on the overall bottom line. But it could have an impact on operation at Oak Ridge, Tenn., where the company is constructing a multimillion-dollar Advanced Production Facility to assemble SRAM-T, SRAM-II (a bomber-mounted version of the missile), the Sea Lance antisubmarine warfare weapon and the Advanced Air Interdiction Weapons System.
In the Mineral County, W.Va., town of Keyser, the Hercules Corp.'s Allegany Ballistics Laboratory (ABL) is one of the two largest employers, with nearly 1,000 on the payroll. Making missile propulsion systems has been a meat-and-potatoes business in the county for years. ABL has worked on the Sidewinder, Phoenix and Army TOW missiles, and is developing the SRAM-T, SRAM-II, Sea Lance, Rocket Assisted Kinetic Energy tank weapon, and X-ROD (a "smart," guided-missile projectile). Those are the missile products of the 1990s.
ABL's future doesn't depend solely on SRAM-T and few jobs were immediately at stake, said Joseph Verna of Hercules's Washington office.
"There wasn't any whistling and stomping" when he called officials at ABL to tell them the program was fully funded, Verna said. But he added that program managers were relieved: Cancellation would have meant fewer jobs in the mid-1990s when production gets going.
Hercules Corp. also had a stake in the SRAM-T decision. The giant aerospace company employs some 4,500 people in Utah at its huge Bacchus works and other facilities. The big jobs are making solid-rocket boosters or composite materials for such Pentagon programs as the Delta II and Titan IV space launch vehicles, the MX missile, Trident II D-5 missile and the B-2 bomber. But the Utah operation will also make casings for the SRAM-II and SRAM-T missiles, which then will be filled with propellant and ignition systems at ABL in West Virginia.
These home-state interests translated into strong support on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
On July 30, Byrd wrote to Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, asking him to "be aware" of Byrd's support for programs at ABL, including SRAM-T. Garn, a member of Inouye's panel and strong advocate of most defense programs in which Hercules has an interest, also weighed in behind the missile. Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) also opposed cuts in SRAM-T.
By early summer, the Air Force was arguing that the missile was not only for Europe, but "has a validated worldwide requirement to enhance the tactical nuclear capability of all the theater nuclear commander-in-chiefs."
But the program faced major problems in the House Armed Services Committee, which sets policy guidelines for defense spending decisions made in the Appropriations Committee. There SRAM-T was opposed by Rep. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Calif.), chairman of the research and development subcommittee, and by Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. (D-S.C.), a moderate southern Democrat who heads a nuclear facilities panel that sets policy on development of the warhead.
In the grand political deal that enabled House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.) to persuade a majority of his committee to support cancellation of the B-2 bomber, funding for SRAM-T was scrapped. Aspin supported continued development of SRAM-II, which would give the existing B-1 bomber some of the capabilities that might be lost to the Air Force if the B-2 were scrapped as Aspin's committee recommended.
Initially, Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, went along with the Armed Services Committee. But in closed-door sessions of House appropriators, Dicks, the No. 2 Democrat on the panel, prevailed on Murtha to change his mind. The 1991 defense spending bill reported by House appropriators gave full $118 million funding to SRAM-T.
When Murtha's spending bill went to the floor, Spratt tacked on an amendment prohibiting any spending above the level authorized by the authorizing Armed Services committees. In the final week of the session, those policy-making committees settled on a figure of only $35 million. But the Senate and House Appropriations committees, headed by Inouye and Murtha, sidestepped the problem by simply deleting the Spratt amendment from their bill during marathon, closed-door negotiations that ended a week before adjournment. That left the appropriators' figure at $118 million.
Dicks said he was prepared in the end to accept a lower figure in the interest of dealing with overruns in the defense bills, but added: "Sen. Byrd insisted on the higher level and he prevailed."
A Byrd spokeswoman took issue with that. Other than the July letter to Inouye, she said, "Sen. Byrd didn't lift a finger."
Other Senate sources also said they were unaware of anyone on the House side suggesting going to the low figure. Congressional sources say it is unclear how the discrepancy between the $118 million in the defense bill and the $35 million authorized by the Armed Services Committee will be handled by the Pentagon.
"It's clearly not over," said Dicks. "This is going to be a hot issue in the next Congress."
The Issue: A new U.S. tactical missile for NATO.
The Players: Sens. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Jake Garn (R-Utah); Reps. Norman Dicks (D-Wash.) and John M. Spratt Jr. (D-N.C.).
The Contractors: Boeing Corp.; Hercules Corp.