Thursday, July 24, 2003

A Swiss company’s refusal to provide critical parts for the Pentagon’s flagship Joint Direct Attack Munition during the Iraq war shows the need for “buy American” laws, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said yesterday.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, also said Switzerland, a neutral nation, blocked delivery of grenades to British military forces during the conflict because it opposed the war.

“The British went into battle in Iraq without a full grenade load,” Mr. Hunter said in an interview.

Regarding the JDAM parts, Mr. Hunter said Swatch Group AG, and its Micro Crystal division in Gretchen, Switzerland, refused to send key components used in the bomb guidance equipment used on the JDAM after the Iraq war began.

The Swiss company’s president blocked the parts to Honeywell, which was a subcontractor for Boeing Co. in making the tail kits for the satellite-guided bombs, 6,600 of which were dropped with great effect during the period of major conflict in Iraq.

The delay forced Boeing to buy the parts from a U.S. manufacturer at nearly twice the cost, a defense official said. The shipments resumed after the Bush administration pressed the Swiss government.

“The Swiss experience — where British combat forces found their grenade supply cut off because Switzerland disagreed with our Iraq policy and Americans were denied critical components for our most important weapons, the JDAM — should raise a red flag with security-minded Americans,” Mr. Hunter said.

Mr. Hunter is waging a political fight within a House-Senate conference to keep language in the fiscal 2004 defense-authorization bill that would protect the military from cutoffs of critical weapons parts.

The House version of the defense bill would require the Pentagon to use more U.S.-built components in weapons and ban the purchase of any weapons-systems components from nations that opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq. It also calls for the defense secretary to identify foreign countries that restricted sales of military goods to the United States over Iraq.

The Senate version of the bill does not contain similar provisions. The “buy American” provisions are among several contentious issues in the conference. Resolution of the differences is not likely until after Congress returns from the summer recess in September.

Mr. Hunter said U.S. aircraft makers are overly dependent on Russian titanium. Only one American machine tool company can handle military milling requirements, he said, and only one American-owned company makes military aircraft tires.

Rep. Robin Hayes, North Carolina Republican, announced yesterday that the House Armed Services Committee had reached an agreement with Boeing Co. that commits the aircraft maker to purchase American titanium in the proposed Air Force deal for new tanker aircraft.

Some defense contractors, including the National Defense Industrial Association, are lobbying to keep out the buy-American provisions. Opponents say the measure will hurt U.S. businesses by limiting their contact with lower-cost foreign manufacturers.

But several small and a few large defense manufacturers are backing the effort, as are some senior officials in the Pentagon, Mr. Hunter said.

The White House, however, opposes “buy American” provisions and has threatened a veto.

Edward C. “Pete” Aldridge, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, said in congressional testimony May 1, without identifying the country as Switzerland, that “the political side of their government decided they were not going to ship parts to countries that were in Iraq.”

“And therefore, they stopped shipping a piece of the JDAM bomb kit, which was a very critical component of ours,” he said.

Later, however, Michael Wynne, Mr. Aldridge’s successor, told Bloomberg News Service that the holdup was “probably not the fault of the Swiss government.”

Mr. Hunter said the Swiss have refused to clear up the issue by making public the correspondence between the government and Micro Crystal.

A Swiss Embassy spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Werner Kaelin, a defense trade official at the Swiss Embassy in Washington, told the Boston Globe last month that Swatch’s majority owner, Nicholas Hayek, ordered Micro Crystal to halt the shipments.

Mr. Kaelin said he did not know why the shipment was delayed, but that the Swiss government told the company that the parts were considered dual-use, rather than military goods, and thus sales to belligerents were not illegal under Swiss law.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide