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Report: $2.6 billion spent on subpar planes

The Air Force has spent $2.6 billion to buy 50 planes that do not meet requirements and cannot be flown in combat, defense investigators reported Friday.
C 130J
Pentagon investigators say the Air Force has spent $2.6 billion to buy 50 Hercules C130J cargo planes, like the one seen in this photograph, from Lockheed Martin that don't meet specifications and can't perform their combat missions. AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Air Force has spent $2.6 billion to buy 50 planes that do not meet the military’s requirements and cannot be flown in combat zones, Defense Department investigators reported Friday.

The Air Force has continued to order more C-130J planes even though the contractor, Lockheed Martin, has not delivered one that met requirements in the eight years since the program began, the report said.

Problems with the propeller-driven cargo planes include faulty computer and diagnostic systems and inadequate defense measures, the Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General concluded. So far, none of the planes has been cleared for some of their primary missions: dropping troops and cargo into war zones and flying in conditions that require the crew to wear night-vision goggles.

The inspector general’s report concluded that Air Force and Defense Department officials mismanaged the program, requiring millions of dollars in upgrades and thousands of hours of work to make the planes capable of performing as well as the aging models they were supposed to replace.

Air Force disputes findings
The Air Force strongly denied the report’s conclusions.

Marvin Sambur, the Air Force’s top acquisition official, wrote to the investigators that the program was within its cost, schedule and contract guidelines. Lockheed Martin has started delivering planes that meet Air Force specifications, and the necessary upgrades have either been completed or scheduled, Sambur wrote.

“While some of the facts presented in the DOD/IG report are accurate, the findings and conclusions ascribed to these facts cannot be supported,” Sambur wrote. “The Air Force fully endorses the C-130J program.”

Jeff Rhodes, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin, said Friday that the company agreed with the Air Force.

“The Air Force, ultimately the end user who is flying the aircraft, also says that the C-130J program is meeting cost, schedule, contract and regulatory commitments,” Rhodes said in an e-mail statement to The Associated Press.

Two Air Force squadrons have not been able to perform their missions for more than four years because they have only C-130Js, the report said. The 815th Air Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., and the 135th Airlift Squadron of the Maryland Air National Guard are supposed to drop troops and supplies into hostile areas.

Five other Air Force and Marine units have the C-130J planes but use older C-130s to perform their missions, the report said.

Testers overwhelmed by problems
Air Force testers found so many problems with the planes that they stopped evaluations in 2000 so problems that had already been found could be fixed, the report said.

The report cites these problems:

  • Propellers for C-130Js designed for gathering weather data inside hurricanes were damaged in all tests. The weather planes also did not have radar strong enough to penetrate storms as far as it should. Upgrades to fix those problems mean C-130Js will not be able to fly hurricane missions until at least next year.
  • Diagnostic systems have a high rate of false positives, meaning maintenance crews spend a lot of time trying to repair components that are not broken.
  • The planes did not have an automated system for planning missions.
  • The C-130Js are so different from older models that pilots qualified to fly older C-130s must be retrained to fly the new ones.

The Air Force continues to order more C-130Js as a commercial item, a process designed to allow the military to buy goods on the open market that need few modifications for military use.

That process gives the Air Force less oversight and fewer cost controls, the inspector general’s report says. For example, the commercial contract means Lockheed Martin does not have to give the Air Force data on how much the planes actually cost, so the Air Force has no way to check the company’s profit margins.

Sambur suggested that the inspector general’s office was biased against such commercial contracts, an accusation the office denied. The inspector general’s office has been among critics of another Air Force plan to retrofit Boeing 767 jets for use as midair refueling planes.