AMERICAN HEROES (House - November 19, 1993)
The F-16. The law will pay for 12 planes rather than the 24 requested by the administration. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ronald V. Dellums, D-Calif., said they will be the final 12 F-16s to join the Air Force.
Space systems. The law cancels the last planned Defense Support Program missile early-warning satellite and continues its replacement, the controversial Follow-on Early Warning System.
Washington: Lawmakers plan to put the bedeviled B-1B Lancer to a test of its readiness, which could cripple much of the fleet in the process.
Eight-five of the heavy bombers, which have been haunted by funding and logistics woes, are operational at four Air Force bases.
Congress is ordering the test as it considers whether to fund a 10-year, $3.9 billion B-1B improvement program that will equip the planes with precision-guided weapons and a new radar jamming system to defend itself and buy logistics support equipment and spares that the Air Force needs to maintain the planes without expensive contractor support.
But before lawmakers decide to pay for the improvements, they want to know whether the plane will be ready for war if it gets all the maintenance equipment that is being asked for by the Air Force.
The 1994 defense authorization bill, a key step in the elaborate Department of Defense budget process, orders Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall to find out whether one wing of B-1B bombers can achieve the high readiness rates that are expected of the planes.
But carrying out the test may force readiness rates to fall for the rest of the B-1B fleet, a problem the bill acknowledges.
`The plan to concentrate the planned level of spare parts and
other support at one wing will likely require some drawdown in the stocks
at the other bases,' the bill says. `This, at a minimum, could further
reduce readiness levels at nontest bases, and, at worst, affect aircrew
proficiency at those bases.'
The Air Force's goal is to have 75 percent of the B-1B fleet war-ready at any time.
Reacting to Air Force concerns that the test could `compromise national security' by ruining the readiness of the B-1B fleet, the lawmakers gave wide latitude to Widnall in forging the rules and timing of the test.
Widnall would be able to postpone the test if she judges that
it cannot be conducted or continued without causing `unacceptable risk
to the readiness or safety of those elements of the B-1 force not included
in the test,' the bill says.
The 10-year, $2.5 billion B-1B improvement program has increased to $3.9 billion, said congressional staffers familiar with the bill.
The B-1B has been a controversial plane in Congress. Its supporters hail the long-range bomber's agility and ability to deliver mass firepower while its detractors argue that the plane is plagued with faulty systems and requires expensive contractor-supplied maintenance and logistics support.
Washington.--Does the Aurora exist?
The Air Force says no, but a manufacturer of model airplanes says yes and is selling Aurora kits for $10 to $30 each. The kits come in three versions.
`People always want to have things surrounded by mystery; `black' programs are always good (for model sales),' said John Andrews, division manager for plastic kits at Testor Corp., a Rockford, Ill.-based model maker. `Black' military programs are those that are developed in secrecy.
But the Air Force says it is in the dark on the Aurora.
`They (the model company) can call it anything that they want,
but it is not modeled on anything that exists, or at least the Air Force
has,' said Maj. Monica Alosio, an Air Force spokeswoman.
But the Air Force says a successor to the Blackbird never will get off the ground.
`The Air Force has no follow-on to the SR-71 , and we do not own the name because we do not own the program,' Alosio said.
The flap over the Aurora started earlier this month when Testor officials unveiled a model of the alleged plane and launched a publicity campaign. Although the secret spy plane program is known as the Aurora, Testor is calling their rendition of the new spy plane the SR -75 Penetrator, which the company says can launch a smaller aircraft dubbed the XR-7 Thunder Dart.
Andrews makes no secret of the company's motives. Plastic model
sales of military equipment have been down since the end of the Cold War,
and the Aurora just may lift them, Andrews said.
But despite the profit motive, Andrews claims the Aurora is hardly a figment of his imagination.
`This is not out of imagination. . . . We get information from people who live in the desert and love airplanes,' Andrews said. `We get messages, phone calls and memos, and we also read the trade press and technological papers.'
He speculated that development of the aircraft probably began
in 1983, with prototypes flying in 1987 and operational aircraft entering
service around 1990.
Welch said that Donald B. Rice, former Air Force secretary, publicly denied the existence of the Aurora in late 1992.
Andrews said unusual reconnaissance aircraft definitely exist even if they are not called the Aurora and have been sighted across the United States and around the world.
He said that on two visits to the Air Force' Area 51 at Groom Lake, Nev., he heard an engine undergoing tests that did not sound like any conventional jet engine.
Since entering the model kit design business in 1957, Andrews has developed accurate model versions of such aircraft as the U-2, the F-117 stealth fighter and the B-2 stealth bomber years before Air Force officials publicly acknowledged their existence.
In 1959 Andrews designed a model of the then-secret U-2 spy plane. Andrews submitted a version of his designs to Lockheed Corp., Calabasas, Calif, the builder of the U-2 which asked Andrews not to release the model kit.
`They said it would be better if I did not build it now,' Andrews said. `They treated me like a gentleman, and I chose not to do it until Gary Powers was shot down.'
Francis Gary Powers, a former Air Force first lieutenant employed by the government to fly the U-2, was shot down by Soviet air defense forces near Sverdlovsk in May 1960 while flying a reconnaissance mission.