WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said Tuesday it had halted sales of spare parts from its recently retired F-14 fighter jet fleet, even as lawmakers pledged tougher oversight of the military’s surplus sales to stop buyers for Iran and other countries from acquiring gear.
Sales of F-14 parts were suspended last Friday pending a comprehensive review, said Defense Logistics Agency spokesman Jack Hooper said.
“It was the prudent thing to do,” he said.
The review will examine Pentagon policy for handling the spare parts and determine what should be done with them “in light of the current situation with Iran,” Hooper said. Iran, currently at odds with the United States and other countries over its suspected nuclear weapons program, among other issues, is the only nation still flying the F-14 Tomcat.
‘Appropriate and necessary’
The decision drew immediate praise from Congress.
“This is an appropriate and necessary short-term step to solving this problem,” said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., a longtime critic of security gaps in Pentagon surplus sales. The Defense Department, he said, “needs a comprehensive review of its entire surplus sales operation to ensure that we aren’t arming our own adversaries, selling them equipment we still need at bargain prices.”
The Pentagon’s move followed a report by The Associated Press this month on the F-14 surplus sales plans. An AP investigation found buyers for Iran, China and other countries had exploited gaps in sales security to get their hands on sensitive military equipment. The purchases included parts for the F-14 and other aircraft and missile components. Law enforcement officials say that in at least one case the contraband made it to Iran.
“The Pentagon’s decision to suspend sales of surplus F-14 parts is welcome news,” said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who had requested a Senate inquiry into surplus security following the AP report. “In this era of instability, we can hardly afford to be sloppy about something as sensitive as our national security.”
Sen. Ron Wyden has introduced legislation to permanently end all Pentagon sales of surplus F-14 parts, saying the military’s marketing of the spares “defies common sense” in light of their importance to Iran. He is among lawmakers calling for stronger congressional oversight of the surplus program.
“The only way to ensure that America doesn’t arm Iran is for the U.S. to permanently stop selling these weapons parts,” Wyden said. “This review does not do that and I am going to press on until it happens.”
The Oregon Democrat’s legislation would bar the Defense Department from selling surplus F-14 parts and ban buyers who have already acquired surplus Tomcat parts from exporting them.
Early security issue for new Congress
The surplus sales are among the first national security issues to be addressed by the new Democratic-controlled Congress. Wyden’s bill is co-sponsored by the Senate’s No. 2 member, Democratic Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois.
The U.S. military retired its Tomcats last fall. Iran bought some of the fighter jets in the 1970s when the country was a U.S. ally and is still trying to keep its fleet flyable.
Iran is heavily dependent on foreign markets for spare parts. U.S. law enforcement officials believe Iran can make only about 15 percent of the components it needs for the jets.
The Pentagon had already intended to destroy at least 10,000 parts it considers unique to the Tomcat. It had planned to sell about 60 percent of the roughly 76,000 parts for the F-14, considering them general aircraft hardware it was safe to sell without restrictions.
The military had been reviewing 23,000 other parts it believed it could sell under existing law but wanted to examine further in light of their potential value to Iran. It will now also review the thousands of general nuts-and-bolts-type components.
The Pentagon says it has followed all procedures in selling its surplus, including those instances where equipment was acquired by buyers for Iran and China.
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