Procurement: Sensitive Surplus Spares Stolen Away


January19, 2007: The U.S. recently retired the F-14 jet fighter, after over three decades of operating from aircraft carriers. When that happened, a stockpile of F-14 spare parts became surplus, and were auctioned off to authorized dealers (who agreed to abide by American export restrictions on military goods.) Some of these dealers did not, or at least the foreigners they sold the stuff to did not, obey these export laws. U.S. investigators caught some of the F-14 parts headed for Iran, and also discovered that some surplus helicopter parts (for CH-47s) also went to Iran last year. The Iranians have been running a rather notorious weapons and parts smuggling operation for over a decade. This has enabled them to keep some of their 1970s vintage American military equipment running, and equip their nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. China has also gotten their hands on surplus U.S. military gear. Not to use, but to enable their engineers to figure out American technology secrets and production techniques.

The only solution to this "sensitive surplus" problem is for the government to render the sensitive parts harmless (via dismantling, melting or otherwise destroying.) But to do this, the government also has to become more accurate in determining which parts hold valuable (to hostile foreigners) secrets. The F-14 aircraft, for example, contains over 75,000 different parts. Some sixty percent of those parts are "common hardware," and the rest contain varying degrees of sensitive knowledge. It takes a lot of effort and care to identify and properly destroy the "special" components. Life was so simple when you could just auction the stuff off to people who promised to behave. The good old days are gone.


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