Buy First, Fly Later

“Don’t test, don’t tell” at the Pentagon

Illustration By: <a href="" target="new">Erik T. Johnson /</a>

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Buy Now, Fly Later

“Don’t test, don’t tell” at the Pentagon

For a while, military reformers looked to be winning the battle against costly weapons systems that don’t work. In the 1970s, they scripted a new maxim, “Fly Before You Buy,”
and by the 1980s, they opened a new office in the Pentagon devoted to overseeing weapons testing. But in recent years, the tide has turned; the Pentagon’s own chief weapons tester, Thomas P. Christie,said in March 2004 that major weapons manufacturers are “learning faster how to avoid testing than we are learning to do it better.” And with each missed test, the public foots the bill for weapons that may place soldiers in unnecessary peril.





Stryker Armored Vehicle

$8.7 billion

After purchasing hundreds of these personnel carriers in 2000, the Pentagon discovered that the Stryker’s armor did not protect against rocket-propelled grenades—one of the biggest threats to soldiers in Iraq.

The Army added a 5,000-pound cage around each vehicle, making them top-heavy and obstructing some escape hatches, according to a Pentagon report written after three soldiers aboard Strykers died during a routine Iraq mission.

Hercules C-130J Transport Plane

About $4 billion

The Air Force purchased the C-130J as a commercial, off-the-shelf airplane, even though it was the first of its kind, which meant… no need for much testing.

Pentagon auditors say the planes “cannot perform” intended missions, such as low-altitude night flying; 168 problems with the craft have been reported, many serious enough to cause crashes.

Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

$641 million through 2002

Pentagon testers declared the drone “not operational, effective or suitable” in September 2001.

So far nearly half of the 48 Predators deployed have crashed.

F/A-22 Raptor

$28.7 billion since 1986

Though the Air Force has spent billions to develop this fighter plane since the mid-’80s, official testing began only last year, exposing problems such as electronics that inexplicably shut down.

The Pentagon is ignoring calls for additional testing from congressional auditors, who noted in a recent report that it is not even clear “why this aircraft is needed.”


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend