WASHINGTON – The US Air Force spent $ 549 million on the damaged Italian-made cargo plane the Afghan government and no one involved in the deal was held accountable, according to a new report by the government’s watchdog.
Neither former US Air Force generals deeply involved in the project nor companies selling defective aircraft to the Pentagon face prosecution over the program, said the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) in a report obtained by NBC News. .
The Pentagon purchased 20 G222 cargo planes from Alenia North America in 2008 but the planes proved unreliable, with long delays in securing spare parts deliveries, maintenance issues and numerous complaints about their safety from Afghan pilots. The program was suspended and the plane was destroyed and turned to scrap metal in 2014, selling for $ 40,257, according to the report.
“Unfortunately, no one involved in the program has been held accountable for the failure of the G222 program,” the report said.
The former Air Force officer “had a clear conflict of interest as he became significantly involved with the G222 program while serving, then retired and became Alenia’s main contact on the same program,” the inspector general’s report said.
The Air Force’s Office of Special Investigation, together with officials from the Defense Criminal Investigation Agency and the FBI, launched an investigation into the project. Federal authorities are trying to build a case against the contractor, Alenia, for possible contract fraud and other breaches, and to hold retired Air Force officers involved in the acquisition accountable, according to the inspector general’s report.
SIGAR also assisted with the investigation, and found that some warnings from within the Air Force about Alenia and the lack of a plan to sustain the aircraft were “ignored.” The investigation found that US contractor personnel “did not check whether Alenia had the necessary spare parts as promised,” or had confirmed that the refurbished aircraft was airworthy “especially in the high altitude and extreme weather conditions in Afghanistan,” the report said. .
The Justice Department accepted cases to prosecute in 2016 but told SIGAR in May 2020 that both cases would be too difficult to prosecute successfully, the report said.
Justice Department officials stated that punishing a retired Air Force general for a conflict of interest violation “would be difficult because such a punishment ‘is unheard of,” the report said.
The Department of Justice also ruled that because the US government took delivery of the aircraft – even though it was clearly in breach of the terms of the contract – it “would significantly complicate efforts to hold Alenia responsible for poor repairs and several other breaches of contract,” according to the report.
The Justice Department declined to comment. Leonardo Company, Alenia’s successor company, did not respond to specific questions about the SIGAR report, but restated its contractual terms to supply the aircraft, noting that it had received a follow-up contract to provide maintenance.
The Pentagon did not identify the Air Force general named in the report as involved with the program and, when asked for comment, referred to his response which was included in the SIGAR report.
No lives were lost
The report said the aircraft was unsuitable for flying in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan and that the shortage of aircraft had resulted in a “near fatal” crash.
“Fortunately, the Afghanistan G222 program was stopped before any lives were lost,” he said.
The report recommends that for future arms purchases, the Department of Defense should adequately consider risks before approving acquisitions, ask contractors to provide plans for how they will maintain aircraft or other products, avoid overriding regulations or procedures as funding for a program is coming to an end, conduct a “comprehensive inspection” prior to receiving the final product and thoroughly investigate “suspected conflict of interest laws” and take appropriate action.
The report included a response from the Department of Defense, which said it had adopted several measures to provide more oversight of arms contracts as a result of the G222 program. The Pentagon disagrees with the report on whether pending funding expiration has played a role in the rush in the decision to buy the G222 cargo plane on a single source contract.
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