San Diego Union Tribune

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Marines turn over Osprey probe to Pentagon | Unit's boss said to have OK'd lies 

 The New York Times News Service contributed to this report. 

25-Jan-2001 Thursday 

WASHINGTON -- The Marine Corps yesterday asked the Pentagon's inspector general to take over its probe into allegations that the commander of the Corps' only MV-22 Osprey squadron told his Marines to falsify maintenance records to help the tilt-rotor aircraft win a crucial production decision.

The Marine Corps said the commandant, Gen. James Jones, decided it was best for outside investigators to handle the latest controversy surrounding the Marines' most important aviation program. An independent probe also became necessary amid speculation that the Osprey squadron's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Odin "Fred" Leberman, may have been acting under direction or pressure from his superiors.

Jones' request was endorsed by acting Navy Secretary Robert Pirie and approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Robert Lieberman, the acting Defense Department inspector general, will take responsibility for the investigation started Jan. 12 by the Marine Corps inspector general, Brig. Gen. Timothy Ghormley.

The commandant said that although he had complete confidence that Ghormley and his staff "would conduct a thorough, complete and unbiased investigation into these allegations, I am concerned that the nature and gravity of the allegations may invite unwarranted perceptions of command influence or institutional bias."

"An inquiry by an independent investigative branch" also was proper because the Air Force and Navy plan to buy Ospreys, Jones said.

The Osprey is a hybrid aircraft that can take off and land vertically, like a helicopter, and by tilting its rotors forward can fly as fast and as far as a turboprop airplane. Its development has been marred by technology challenges, growing cost, an attempted cancellation and three fatal

The program received one more blow earlier this month when a maintenance technician at the Osprey unit, Marine Medium Tilt-Rotor Training Squadron 204, produced evidence that Leberman told squadron members they had to lie and "manipulate the data" to make aircraft availability look better than it was.

The false records were necessary to ensure that the Osprey won approval for full-rate production, Leberman allegedly told his Marines.

Marine Corps officials contend that there is no link between the allegedly falsified maintenance records and the two crashes last year.

The Marine Corps wants to buy 360 of the aircraft, at a cost of more than $30 billion, to replace its fleet of Vietnam War-era transport helicopters.