In April 1990 the U.S. Navy’s A-12–a replacement aircraft for the outdated A-6Intruder–had the support of the Secretary of Defense before Congress. Nine months later Secretary Cheney cancelled the A-12, making it the largest weapons program ever terminated by the Pentagon and the first cancelled for default with the Pentagon making demands that the contractors return the money already paid them. Ten years later, questions remain unanswered and lessons are still to be learned.
With access to a wealth of government and contractor documents and more than a hundred players at all levels of involvement, James Stevenson takes readers into the once-forbidden world of classified “special access” programs to examine the demise of the A-12, charging that the documents exposed fraudulent and even illegal activity. He faults the navy not just for mismanagement but for ignoring the statutes and regulations that require Congress to appropriate money before entering into contracts. Rather than a single big mistake, he finds the A-12’s path from honor to derision to be littered with hundreds of mistakes and attempts to right wrongs or cover them up. In recounting the events that eventually led to the Stealth bomber’s cancellation, Stevenson cites countless examples of the mismatch between perception and reality experienced by navy program managers, the defense department, Congress, and the contractors. In the process of telling the story, he takes on the entire defense acquisition process and its responsibility for the program that cost American taxpayers over $5 billion yet produced not a single airplane for their defense.