Iran purchased several parts for F-14 fighter planes from a U.S. military surplus store, according to the results of a federal investigation reported by the Associated Press (AP) Jan. 16. The report prompted the Pentagon to suspend sales of the F-14 components.
Federal investigators, including some from the Government Accountability Office, told the AP that foreign individuals and companies bought the parts and sold them to Iran. The incident was just one piece of a larger ring of illegally sold military surplus parts that found their way to China and Iran.
Military surplus offices are supposed to demilitarize parts, which would render them useless for military purposes. They are also allowed to auction the parts but only to buyers who promise to obey U.S. arms embargoes, export controls, and other laws. That was not the case, however, with these F-14 parts, according to the wire service.
Officials told the AP of one instance in 2000, where a company called Multicore bought the fighter parts from the Department of Defense surplus office. The parts were later confiscated because of export control violations and returned to the surplus office. However, another company, allegedly Iranian, bought the same parts in 2005.
Defense officials told the AP that Tehran is said to be in search of several key components for its aging fleet of F-14 “Tomcat” jets, which the United States sold to Iran prior to its 1979 Islamic Revolution. These parts include electronics and hydraulics used to control the wing, guidance and control system, J85 engines, Vulcan 20mm cannon and ammunition drums, and Sparrow medium-range missiles.
Members of Congress put pressure on the U.S. military to suspend the selling of F-14 parts. Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) Jan. 16 called the cases “a huge breakdown, an absolute, huge breakdown.” He said “the military should not sell or give away any sensitive military equipment. If we no longer need it, it needs to be destroyed—totally destroyed.”Pentagon officials sought to counter the criticism. “Our first priority truly is national security, and we take that very seriously,” said Pentagon spokesperson Fred Ballie. “However, we have to balance that with our other requirement to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money.” Nonetheless, the Pentagon did decide Jan. 31 to halt the sale of F-14 components.