The Army's videotape is spectacular. As unmanned planes sweep into view, the high-tech antiaircraft gun on the ground swivels and blows them out of the sky. It looks like a brilliant performance by one of the Pentagon's most controversial new weapons, the Sergeant York division air-defense gun, known as the DIVAD. In a test last year, the gun's laser-and-radar guidance system could not even hit a stationary helicopter, one of many embarrassments for the problem-plagued system. This time, claimed the contractor, Ford Aerospace, the weapon destroyed "six of seven high-performance aircraft."
Not so, said Republican Congressman Denny Smith of Oregon, a veteran pilot who flew 189 missions over Viet Nam. Smith pointed out that the unmanned planes used in the $54 million test came in higher and slower than they would in a battle. Worse, when he investigated further, he learned that the aircraft were in fact exploded by remote ground control within seconds of each firing from Sergeant York. Smith believes that the gun never actually hit the drone planes. The Army says that the rapid-fire shots came close enough to destroy the aircraft and that the remote-controlled blasts were used to keep them from flying out of control. Still, John Krings, the Pentagon's director of testing, conceded that "the limitations [of the test] were and still are significant."
Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger must now decide whether to go ahead with plans to spend $4.2 billion for 618 of the weapons. According to one Pentagon source, a classified Army study bolsters the critics' case against the Sergeant York, concluding that the high-tech guidance system performs no better than the systems it was designed to replace. Weinberger said the latest test was "the most realistic operational testing that we ever put a weapon system through," but he is waiting to see further reports before he makes up his mind. "For the good of the taxpayer and the soldier who has to use this weapon," says Smith, "it is imperative that the DIVAD be killed."