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Pentagon Defends Jet Use, Planes Needed for Wartime Mission

By Staff Sgt. Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 31, 2000 – DoD will tighten up the way it determines the right size of its fleet of operational support aircraft in response to a recent congressional report.

The report says DoD's current process isn't clearly linked to wartime requirements, as department policy requires, Pentagon spokesperson Ken Bacon said in a May 30 briefing.

Bacon said DoD agrees the standards could be clearer and the process perhaps better, and it will work to develop them.

He said DoD has 364 of its 391 authorized operational support aircraft, which provide mobility to commanders and other military leaders in time of war. "This is a fleet that is set up to take commanders quickly to remote locations that may not be covered by commercial air traffic, particularly in wartime," he said.

DoD is required to maintain the planes for use with little or no notice.

"You can't generate that fleet of planes overnight. You have to maintain it on a day-to-day basis. It doesn't do any good to have the planes sitting in mothballs at airports. They have to be functional, they have to have trained crews, and they have to be flown in order for them to be functional and have trained crews," Bacon said. "If you have a requirement to maintain these planes and to maintain them in ready condition with trained crews, it doesn't do any good to fly them around empty. You might as well fly people in them."

Pentagon officials said they would consider a report recommendation that DoD annually review requirements for the fleet's size.

"We may decide, after looking at the question, that the requirements don't change enough from year to year to warrant an annual review," Bacon said. "Therefore, we would stick with one that takes place every two or three years."

Certain members of Congress have called the planes a "silver-starred perk" used to ferry generals around. Bacon rebutted these charges, saying that of the more than 291,000 passengers on these aircraft in fiscal 1999, less than 5 percent were generals or admirals. "So the vast bulk of them were lower-ranking people, normal troops going from place to place," he said.

He also said that of the 14 different types of aircraft in the fleet, more than half are small, propeller-driven planes. "I am not sure they would be called luxury planes or not," Bacon said.

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