The recent scandal over surplus F-14 aircraft parts finding their way to
Iran, uncovered another loophole in the disposal of surplus weapons. It seems
that four surplus F-14s were sold, in the late 1990s, to museums, without being
"demilitarized" ("demiled"), The four aircraft were recently seized, three from
museums, and one from a dealer, by federal agents. The one owned by the dealer,
had previously been owned by a TV production company, and had been used as a
prop (for the show "JAG").
The demilitarization process, which makes the
aircraft unusable as a weapon, involves removing all classified military
equipment from the aircraft (especially electronics), as well as the engines
(which makes the surplus aircraft much easier to move). Finally, the fuselage
is cut in half, usually just behind the cockpit. This is expensive, as it
requires a special cutting machine. Then, in another expensive procedure, the
fuselage is welded back together, and evidence of the process, on the outer
surface of the fuselage, is hidden. This process means the aircraft can never
fly again, because the welds are not as strong as the original, uncut, interior
metal framework of the aircraft.
The four aircraft in question were sold for about
$4,000 each. The cost would have been much higher if they were demiled. The
people involved in these transactions cannot be prosecuted because of the
statute of limitations. Moreover, the officials who let the F-14s go for such a
low price (because they were not demiled), were trying to do the museums, and
the TV show that featured the military, a favor. That won't happen again for a
while, at least not when it comes to demiling.