WaPo editorial – Cochran, Shelby fight for peice of miltary industrial complex

This meeting of the Senate Military-Industrial Caucus will now come to order.

The chair recognizes the senator from Northrop Grumman for a question.

“We’ve noticed the increase in the amphibious ship fleet needs that go beyond traditional military missions,” said Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). “Do you see a continuing need for shipbuilding in the amphibious area?”

Of course, Senator. Nobody will hurt the DD(X) destroyers they build in Pascagoula.

Does the senator from General Dynamics have a question?

“Littoral combat ships,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). “Do you believe that this program will play a vital role in our Navy’s future fleet?”

Certainly, Senator. Tell the folks in Mobile that their shipbuilding operation is safe. The chair now recognizes the senator from Boeing.

“I wanted to ask you today if you can tell me how you are taking into account the health and longevity of our domestic industrial base,” asked Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

Sure, Senator. Your constituents in Everett will get another shot at that aerial refueling tanker contract they lost to the Airbus consortium.

And so it went at yesterday’s hearing of the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, attempting a bold reshaping of the military-industrial complex to meet the changing nature of war, pleaded with the lawmakers to rise above the powerful contractors that fund their campaigns and influence their elections. “The responsibility of this department first and foremost is to fight and win the nation’s wars,” Gates reminded them. “I know that some will take issue with individual decisions. I would ask, however, that you look beyond specific programs and instead at the full range of what we are trying to do.”

On the other side of the Capitol, senators were making similar cases to Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mississippi’s Cochran, who has a Navistar facility in his state that makes Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, started off with a question about “other uses” for the MRAP.

Alabama’s Shelby followed that with a bit of lobbying for the Army aviation school at Fort Rucker. “This is an urgent demand in Afghanistan right now,” he said.

“Having visited Fort Rucker, it’s clear that the schoolhouse needs to be expanded and modernized,” Gates replied.

The boosterism became complicated when lawmakers spoke up for rival contractors. Shelby, speaking for the Northrop Grumman-EADS partnership that wants to build Air Force tankers in Alabama, urged Gates to buy “the most capable tanker for our war fighters.” Murray, representing Boeing, the West Coast rival for the contract, countered: “We want the best war fighter, and we also want what’s best for the taxpayer, as well.”