A Democratic lawmaker says he will press on with legislation to permanently bar the Pentagon from selling leftover F-14 jet fighter parts despite the Defense Department's decision to pull them off the market while it considers national security concerns.
The spares rank high on Iran's military shopping list.
"The Pentagon is shutting the barn door for now when national security demands that we lock it," Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden (news, bio, voting record) said.
Iran is the only country trying to keep F-14s flyable. With little ability to produce parts on its own, Iran is aggressively pursuing several avenues to get hold of U.S. spares, including Pentagon surplus sales, federal law enforcement officials say.
An Associated Press investigation this month found buyers for countries including Iran and China have exploited gaps in Pentagon surplus-sale security to get their hands on sensitive military equipment. The purchases included parts for the F-14 "Tomcat" and other aircraft and missile components, and law enforcement officials say that in at least one case the contraband made it to Iran.
The AP also reported on the Pentagon's initial plans to sell thousands of spares from its recently retired fleet, news that prompted strong disapproval on Capitol Hill.
"It was the prudent thing to do," said Jack Hooper, a spokesman for the Defense Logistics Agency.
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 added. Iran is currently at odds with the United States and other countries over its suspected nuclear weapons program, among other issues.
Wyden's legislation, introduced last week, would stop the Defense Department from selling surplus F-14 parts for good and ban buyers who have already acquired surplus Tomcat parts from exporting them. He is confident he can win Senate approval within the next few months.
"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."
A House Republican also viewed the Pentagon move as a short-term solution.
"DoD 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," said Connecticut Rep. Christopher Shays (news, bio, voting record), a longtime critic of security gaps in Pentagon surplus sales.
Nonetheless, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., called the decision welcome news. Kerry asked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to investigate surplus security following the AP report.
Iran acquired its Tomcats in the 1970s with permission from the United States. The two countries were allies at the time.
The U.S. military retired its F-14s last fall, and decided 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 Pentagon says it has to balance national security concerns with its mandate to recoup costs by selling leftover gear when it can. It maintains it has followed proper procedures in selling surplus, including those instances where equipment was acquired by buyers for Iran and China.