Editorial: Who’s kidding whom?

The next time you hear a four-star whine to Congress about how military pay and benefits are wreaking havoc on the defense budget and must be rolled back, think about this item buried deep in the news mix last week:

According to the Washington Post, a few years ago the Defense Department spent nearly half a billion dollars of U.S. taxpayer money to buy 20 Italian cargo planes for the Afghan Air Force.

The planes turned out to be highly defective, with problems in performance, maintenance and spare parts. Sixteen were sold for scrap — at a return of 6 cents a pound. The others are parked at a U.S. air base in Germany and likely will never see service.

DoD spent $486 million on the planes, junked most of them, and recouped just a paltry $32,000. But it’s you, Airman 1st Class Jones, and your costly benefits, that are destroying the defense budget.

In truth, the military-industrial complex about which President Eisenhower warned the nation decades ago is in full flower. DoD wastes this kind of money on hardware all the time; it’s now a collective $400 billion over initial cost estimates on its current weapons acquisition portfolio.

And according to Watchdog.org, the major defense contractors that profit so handsomely from such overruns shower lawmakers with about $65 million a year in lobbying cash. So forget about Congress providing any fixes.

Unfortunately, the only thing likely to alter this rigged game is troops voting with their feet — as they did in the ’90s, the last era in which defense leaders habitually squeezed pay and benefits, to the point of sending recruiting and retention off the cliff.

It took many years, great effort and a lot of money to fix that damage.

At a time when security threats are multiplying around the globe at a frightening rate, what a disservice the brass would do to service members — and the nation — if they shortsightedly repeated that glaring mistake.

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