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Air Force leaders testify on IG tanker lease report

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (June 08, 2005) -- The Air Force's two most senior leaders testified June 7 on Capitol Hill about the Service's efforts to recapitalize its fleet of refueler aircraft.

Michael L. Dominguez, acting secretary of the Air Force, and Gen. John P. Jumper, Air Force chief of staff, both answered questions for the Senate Armed Service Committee concerning findings in a Department of Defense inspector general's report on the Air Force's KC-767A tanker lease program.

Michael L. Dominguez, acting secretary of the Air Force, gives an opening statement during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee here June 7. The committee held the hearing to examine the Department of Defense inspector general's management accountability review of the Boeing KC-767A Tanker Program. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jim Varhegyi.

The KC-767A tanker lease program had been the Air Force's partial solution to jump-start the replacement of the service's fleet of 400 ageing KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refuelers. Some of those aircraft are now more than 40 years old.

The original plan was to lease up to 100 commercial 767 aircraft from the Boeing Co. and have them modified to serve as tanker aircraft, to include extra tanks and refueling booms.

The program encountered roadblocks on Capitol Hill as members of Congress questioned the need for new tankers, the Air Force's and DOD's interpretation and application of DOD acquisition directives, and the service's dealings with the defense contractor, Boeing.

Because of these issues, the program was never initiated, and no contract was signed nor was any money paid to Boeing.

Despite concerns over the tanker lease proposal, the Air Force and the Senate alike believe the ageing KC-135 fleet needs to be replaced. General Jumper told senators on the committee he knows firsthand the problems with the tankers. He visited Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., to view the aircraft and to investigate their corrosion problems.

"What I saw there was, quite frankly, of concern to me," General Jumper said. "There were ageing aircraft problems I thought needed to be addressed. My recommendation at the time was to begin recapitalization as quickly as possible."

The general also told senators that his role in the Air Force is to show there is a need for the aircraft, not to determine how the service should get them.

"I am responsible for the requirement part of the Air Force," he said. "After (Sept. 11, 2001) I saw an instant surge in tanker utilization. I looked at a fleet that was more than 40 years old. If we began recapitalization immediately, we would be flying the airplanes when (the current aircraft) were 70 years old. I honestly thought it was time to get on with the recapitalization. I had no methods in mind when the lease proposal was advanced. I never had it in mind to do anything that was not beneficial to the nation."

The nearly 300 page review of the program, which was directed by the Senate committee, attempts to determine what happened with the lease program, who was accountable and what actions must be taken to prevent it from happening again.

The IG analyzed e-mails and memorandums from Boeing and the Air Force and interviewed 88 people from both the DOD and the Air Force who were involved in the lease program to determine what happened and who was accountable.

Several e-mails sent by Air Force senior leaders during development and negotiation of the contract made their way into the report. Some of those messages contained language and were of a tone deemed disrespectful to the Senate. Air Force leaders apologized for those messages.

"I want to on behalf of the men and women of the United States Air Force, apologize to the committee, in particular to (Sen. John McCain,) for the unprofessional nature of many of our e-mails that are published in the DOD inspector's report. The tone in those e-mails is certainly unwarranted by the motivation of Senator McCain and his staff," Mr. Dominguez said.

General Jumper also said the comments did not bear out the standards of professionalism expected of the Air Force and are not what he expects of Air Force bluesuiters.

"These comments were unprofessional and not worthy of a great Air Force that has members out there performing," he said. "I require a higher standard of them than we demonstrated ourselves in that report."