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Why F-14s Must be Crushed

by Ward Carroll on July 16, 2007

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For months, Defense Tech has been keeping a close eye on developments over the issue of F-14 Tomcat spare parts. Theres fear that Iran could get its hands on enough aftermarket material to keep its aging Tomcats alive for years posing a threat to U.S. naval interests in the Persian Gulf.

One of the countrys best-sourced aviation industry analysts a man with whom Ive worked at previous publications has put together an informative narrative on the nefarious world of backroom deals and bureaucratic incompetence that permeates the jet parts aftermarket.

Iran’s aerospace industry and intelligence services then embarked on what has become a nearly three-decade shell game of trying to find ways to covertly or illegally procure parts for the F-14. Not surprisingly, incidents of spares “disappearing” from storehouses at Subic Base in the Philippines and other Navy installations worldwide became regular occurrences.

Numerous middlemen operating from shadowy front companies ordered parts for the Iranian Tomcats.Some of these fronts have ended up in the U.S. courts over the years, but the Iranians have had far more successes than failures in getting their hands on what they need. During Iran’s air show last year–27 years after the embargo was first imposed–several Iranian aerospace enterprises openly displayed overhauled components for the F-14 that they manage to keep acquiring parts for up to this day.

Rueben Johnson pulls no punches in his article, published in this weeks Weekly Standard, making the Defense Logistics Agency look particularly bad. He demonstrates that the Iranian parts rope-a-dope has had the unintended effect of hamstringing legitimate foreign weapons and parts makers wanting to do business with the United States.

In one publicized incident, the paperwork from an Iranian agent for illegally purchased F-14 parts passed under the DLA’s nose, but the parts were then seized by Customs agents before they could be shipped to Iran. The spares were sent back to DLA, which, instead of putting them under guard, promptly sold them to another middleman working on behalf of the Iranians. The fact that these spare parts were now identified as being on Iran’s wish list should have warranted some extra scrutiny when a second buyer came looking for them. What’s more, the Customs Service evidence tags from the first seizure were still attached to these items–they were literally red-flagged–which makes the act of selling them to a second Iranian agent inexcusable.

This all stands in stark contrast to the bureaucratic zeal with which the U.S. government controls military technology flowing into the United States. Try importing foreign military spare parts and other materiel from foreign nations into the United States, and U.S. government oversight suddenly becomes ruthlessly efficient.

U.S. companies that operate as Foreign Materiel Acquisition (FMA) agents currently purchase millions of dollars’ worth of foreign military hardware and spare parts each year. Some items are used for training U.S. forces, while others are used to equip the newly established and coalition-trained security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. In every one of these sales, there are reams of paperwork–including end-user certificates, copies of the company’s U.S. government-issued license that permits it to trade in armaments–all of which must be properly authenticated, notarized, and signed by government officials on both sides.

So the answer is to simply destroy all the F-14s in the bone yard, essentially eliminating the spare parts issue for good? Way to sweep the issue right off the table, USG…

– Christian

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