Air Force buys unfit aircraft, officials say

WASHINGTON – 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, Pentagon investigators reported Friday.

The Air Force has continued to order more C-130J planes despite the fact that contractor Lockheed Martin hasn’t 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 Pentagon’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 requiring 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’re supposed to replace.

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

Lockheed Martin spokesman Jeff Rhodes said Friday the company agrees with the Air Force.

The military is buying the planes as a commercial item – a process designed to allow the military to purchase goods on the open market that need few modifications for military use.

Sambur suggested 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.

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