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Setting defense priorities

Joseph C. Harsch's column ``The real reason for big bombers,'' Dec. 1, demands a response. For the record, the following facts are provided to refute the inaccuracies of this column. The Air Force does not have two bombers ``under construction.'' B-1B production was completed in April 1988.

The B-1B is not having trouble with its flight controls. From information released thus far, there is no indication that an aircraft malfunction contributed to the Nov. 18 B-1B accident.

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The early cost estimates for adding to the capability of the electronic countermeasures system is roughly $5 billion, not $25 billion as stated.

This column, in the space of three short paragraphs, quotes the cost of a B-1B to be roughly $250 million and $1 billion. The former is correct.

The general suppositions made by Mr. Harsch, such as the belief that obsolete passenger planes should be fitted for cruise missiles, that cruise missiles and ICBMs could be fitted with self-destruction capabilities up to the time of impact, and that the penetrating bomber is the only remaining justification for a separate Air Force, are ludicrous. Clearly there is room for debate on defense priorities, but the seriousness of these issues demands that debate be an informed one. Michael P. McRaney, Washington, Brigadier General, USAF

This is one of Mr. Harsch's most sensible and valuable columns. Of course we don't need these fantastically expensive B-1s and B-2s to ``penetrate'' the Soviet Union. The penetration, as Mr. Harsch correctly points out, can be done infinitely cheaper and better by cruise missiles. These missiles, perhaps not known by many people, can be made into little ``Stealth missiles'' by coating them with the same radar-resistant material used on the $5 million Stealth B-2 bomber - and this is being done. I don't think the United States should drop the Air Force. The tactical Air Command, which Mr. Harsch does not mention, is of great value. But the cost of US defenses can be further reduced by not building new aircraft carriers. I'd mothball all but a few that are already built. They are sickeningly expensive and they are sitting ducks. Put the money in Trident subs. Frank Harvey, Hackettstown, N.J.

Because of an editing error, the letter to the editor Dec. 22 from Brig. Gen. Michael P. McRaney, director of public affairs of the US Air Force, misstates the USAF estimate for the cost of adding to the capability of the B-1B bomber's electronic countermeasures system. The figure should have been $500 million, not $5 billion.

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