The announcement from the Pentagon this week that Defense Secretary Dick Cheney has canceled the Navy's A-12 Stealth attack plane because of cost overruns and schedule delays was a welcome one.

It is extremely rare for a major weapons system to be killed. The last one was the Army's Sgt. York anti-aircraft gun, which then-Secretary Caspar Weinberger decided in 1985 did not work as well as the systems already on hand after $1.8 billion had been spent.The scrubbing of the A-12, also known as the Avenger, represents the largest contract ever terminated by the Pentagon - with the projected cost of $52 billion for 620 planes and cost overruns of $1.4 billion - with $1.2 billion already spent.

The cancellation sets the stage for a legal battle between the Pentagon and the aircraft's contractors, General Dynamics Corp., and McDonnel Douglas Corp., who said they will have to lay off 9,000 people.

Unfortunately, the surprising decision leaves the Navy without a replacement for its aging fleet of A-6 Intruders - the only Navy bomber that can attack at night and in bad weather.

In spite of that void, as well as the loss of jobs for so many people, Cheney deserves commendation for the courage to do what he clearly saw was in the national interest.

Giant weapons' contracts have a way of becoming more than just defense issues. They also evolve into politically protected jobs programs and hometown election concerns that have little to do with national security.

Since the Avenger contract is also under criminal investigation and led to the abrupt resignation of Undersecretary of Defense John Betti, the Pentagon procurement chief, its real cost would only have continued to rise. We are better off without the A-12 Avenger.