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Analysis

Can the Air Force Make the Facts Fit Its C-130J Story?

The fight to save the Air Force's problem-plagued C-130J cargo aircraft program has heated up in Congress—and that can only mean one thing: The truth will depend on whom you believe.

The C-130J has taken a beating ever since the Department of Defense Inspector General last summer harshly criticized the Air Force for using a bad business strategy to acquire the aircraft, and for accepting 50 of the C-130J models even though they all had serious deficiencies when they were delivered. The aircraft's manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, and the Air Force say that the problems have since been fixed, but the Pentagon's independent tester said in a report released last month that the aircraft still has deficiencies and has yet to be thoroughly tested.

Now the full press is on in Congress to continue buying the $66.5 million per copy aircraft. Leading the charge has been Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss—the aircraft is manufactured primarily in Marietta, Georgia—who says that he has been told by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that the Pentagon is rethinking the program termination.

The excuses to keep the C-130J assembly line open are coming out of the woodwork. Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner cautioned at a budget hearing yesterday that it may cost up to $1 billion to slice $5 billion from the budget in 2007 and beyond. And, the Air Force, who didn't even want the planes when they were first approved by Congress (see the section "Summary of Air Force Reasons for Rejecting the Unsolicited C-130 Modernization Proposal") in the mid-1990s, suddenly has decided that it has problems with some of its older C-130 models and may need to retire them.

There is yet another sign that the fight over the C-130J has become high stakes. This week, POGO obtained a Lockheed email instructing employees to cease responding to what it called a “recent flurry” of information requests from the C-130J program office. The email suggests that the aircraft is under heavy scrutiny and that Lockheed will only provide information that is contractually required.