WASHINGTON — Congress has promised to hold hearings after a Department of Defense watchdog turned up evidence that the contractor manufacturing the Air Force’s planned F-24 Boyd fighter jet was also being contracted by the Chinese military to design a missile to shoot it down.
“We’re going to get to the bottom of this,” declared a visibly angry Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) in a session of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
The senator made his remarks after a report by the Pentagon Inspector General revealed that Virginia-based Pataiman, or Patriotic Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation, which received the bid to develop and build the F-24 in 2002, was also simultaneously developing China’s PL-13 surface-to-air missile to shoot down the F-24.
Pataiman has denied any a conflict of interest and claimed the whole affair is a simple misunderstanding.
“We are taking these allegations extremely seriously,” wrote spokesman Dong Min in a response to media inquiries. He defended Pataiman’s connections with the Chinese military as a synergistic opportunity of vertical integration to help the company expand its 21st century global marketing footprint in a time of domestic austerity.
Min also described the PL-13 as “purely defensive” in nature and said it was designed only for sale to the U.S. and NATO member states. However the company website, all in Mandarin, describes the missile as “perfect for helping you maintain air superiority over any large or small offshore Pacific islands you may have claimed.”
According to Min, internal barriers between different subsidiaries of the company, set up to prevent any conflicts of interest, may have accidentally contributed to the problem. He included a picture from the company headquarters, which showed a state-of-the-art piece of cardboard separating the cubicles for the All-Weather Air Superiority Fighter and People’s Heroic Air Defense development teams.
While the IG also suggests that Pataiman is in blatant violation of the Arms Export Control Act, Min added that scrupulous safeguards are in place to ensure that no U.S. technology is inadvertently transferred to China, with exception of course for any recovered from the wreckage of F-24’s shot down by them.
Critics at the Pentagon responded by burning an effigy of Min in the building’s courtyard.
The IG report also notes an open investigation by the Justice Department into a previous contract that Pataiman held with the Joint Improvised Explosive Device-Defeat Organization, which it was forced to drop in 2010 after an internal newsletter revealed the company was also helping unspecified parties in Pakistan develop a new type of explosive compound specifically undetectable by American anti-IED technology.
According to the IG, Pataiman pursued a similar dual-track strategy with both the United States and China: Offering to add features to the F-24 while simultaneously offering China countermeasures for the PL-13, then returning to the Pentagon to warn of those PL-13 countermeasures and claiming the F-24 would need even more features to counter those.
An internal Pataiman memo cited in the IG report noted that this internal arms race was more profitable than actually building either weapons system, and hoped the company could stretch out the development of both through at least 2021.
The IG has also launched a separate investigation into several Air Force colonels who initially uncovered Pataiman’s Chinese connections. Rather than notify anyone, they actually encouraged the company’s deception, seeing the PL-13 as a way to both increase the F-24’s funding and divert more of the defense budget to the Air Force.
One of the colonels even suggested informally coordinating their weapons development with People’s Liberation Army, since according to him, “None of these are ever going to be used in combat anyways.”
In response to the report, Pataiman has announced that for increased efficiency both the F-24 and the PL-13 will be manufactured at the same factory in U.S. House Speaker John Boehner’s home district in Ohio.