THE Pentagon has made the appropriate decision in canceling the Sergeant York antiaircraft gun. Its performance-test record has been dismal, as Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger noted; at one stage it was more a threat to battlefield latrines than to enemy planes and helicopters. Cancellation saves the American taxpayer $3 billion. Another factor may have been at work in the decision. Both Congress and the public now are firmly resistant to the idea of increasing military expenditures: The Pentagon will have to get along next year with about what it received this year.
Thus Secretary Weinberger is in the position of having to trim weapons expenses to stay within the overall budget. Acquisition of some weapons likely will be slowed down; others could be canceled too.
No previous major weapons system ever had been canceled once in production, which the Sergeant York gun was: Complex new weaponry programs seem to take on a life of their own.
Cancellation should always be an option if weapons do not perform properly, or prove duplicatory.
However, planning is more efficient and far less costly than cancellation in midstream. Never again should the Pentagon, or Congress, permit a weapon to be developed and produced simultaneously, as the Sergeant York was. A common sense approach should be adopted: First establish a genuine military need, then conduct research and development. The weapon should be purchased only if it proves it can do what it is supposed to do.
In the future, more careful planning should be undertaken to establish what the military requirements really are. The Pentagon should think ahead to determine what the ever-changing military demands on a weapons system actually will be at the time that it is produced, rather than merely aim to meet the needs of the moment, as may have happened with the Sergeant York, a weapons system named for a World War I hero.