- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 3, 2007


A mechanical monster grabs the F-14 fighter jet and chews through one wing and then another, ripping off the Tomcat’s appendages before moving on to its guts. Finally, all that’s left is a pile of shredded rubble.

The Pentagon is paying a contractor at least $900,000 to destroy old F-14s rather than sell the spares and risk their falling into the wrong hands, including Iran‘s.

Within a workday, a fighter jet that once soared as a showpiece of U.S. air power can be destroyed at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz., the military’s “boneyard” for retired aircraft.

“There were things getting to the bad guys, so to speak,” said Tim Shocklee, founder and executive vice president of TRI-Rinse Inc. in St. Louis. “And one of the ways to make sure that no one will ever use an F-14 again is to cut them into little 2-by-2-foot bits.”

The Defense Department had intended to destroy spare parts unique to the F-14 but sell thousands of others that could be used on other aircraft. It suspended sales of all Tomcat parts after the Associated Press reported in January that buyers for Iran, China and other countries had exploited gaps in surplus-sale security to acquire sensitive U.S. military gear, including F-14 parts.

Iran is the only country trying to keep Tomcats airworthy. The United States let Iran buy the F-14s in the 1970s when it was an ally, long before President Bush named it part of an “axis of evil.”

Mr. Shocklee’s company won a three-year, $3.7 million contract to render surplus equipment useless for military purposes. The work includes the recent demolition of 23 Tomcats in Arizona, accounting for about $900,000 of TRI-Rinse’s contract.

The Tomcat was a strike fighter with a striking price tag: roughly $38 million. By the 1980s, it was a movie star with a leading role in the Tom Cruise action film “Top Gun.” But as the planes are mangled into unrecognizable metal chunks, the jets with a 38-foot wingspan appear small and vulnerable.

Among the shredded victims in Arizona: a plane flown by the “Tophatters” squadron, which led the first air strike in Afghanistan when the United States invaded in October 2001.

The Pentagon retired its F-14s last fall. At last count, the military’s boneyard in Arizona held 165 Tomcats, thought to be the only ones left out of 633 produced for the Navy. The others were scavenged for parts to keep others flying, went to museums or crashed, said Teresa Vanden-Heuvel, spokeswoman for the air base.

Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, considers the F-14 demolitions a good effort, but wants to go further and outlaw the sale of F-14 parts to anyone except museums. Mr. Wyden has sponsored legislation that also would ban export licenses for F-14 components, which he thinks will be more effective than Pentagon policies that he said have changed over time.

“I don’t think internal rules — these internal initiatives — based on the track record of the Department of Defense, are sufficient,” Mr. Wyden said.

The House passed similar legislation in June; a Senate vote is expected later this summer. The White House hasn’t said whether Mr. Bush supports the idea.

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