San Diego Union-Tribune


02-Feb-2001 Friday 

Osprey controversy growing for Marines 


WASHINGTON -- The Marine Corps was hit yesterday with a new round of questions about whether senior officers overseeing the troubled Osprey program helped cover up mechanical problems with the airplane-helicopter

Nine days after the Marines' deputy director of aviation programs sent his superior very poor readiness figures for the MV-22 Osprey -- along with warnings that they should be "close held" -- he gave numbers nearly three times more favorable to Pentagon reporters.

The "discrepancy" between the extremely low aircraft readiness numbers Brig. Gen. James Amos sent Lt. Gen. Fred McCorkle in a Nov. 21 e-mail and the much more favorable ones he cited to Pentagon reporters Nov. 30 was the result of two different maintenance reporting systems, Marine Lt. David Nevers said.

"The numbers he gave Nov. 30 were completely accurate" under the old reporting system, Nevers said, even though they were much more favorable than figures based on the new system, which he had sent to McCorkle, the Marine Corps' deputy chief of staff for aviation.

The e-mail with the conflicting numbers was first reported on CBS' "60 Minutes II" program Wednesday evening.

The new controversy came on top of the disclosure two weeks ago that the commander of the Osprey training squadron, Lt. Col. Odin "Fred" Leberman, told his Marines to falsify maintenance records to help the tilt-rotor troop carrier get approval for full production.

Nevers, meanwhile, said the conflicting numbers do not indicate that Amos and McCorkle were involved in Leberman's alleged effort to deliberately falsify the readiness statistics.

"Gen. Amos was alerting Gen. McCorkle to the lower readiness figures because of this new reporting system," Nevers said.

In the e-mail message, Amos told McCorkle that the "mission capable" rate for aircraft in the Osprey squadron in November was 26.7 percent. That means, on average, only one out of every four Ospreys was able to fly. The "full mission-capable rate" -- which means all the key systems are working -- was only 7.9 percent for the same period, Amos told his boss.

But in trying to defuse findings that the Osprey was operationally unsuitable because of poor availability, Amos told reporters the squadron's mission-capable rate for the first 13 days of November was 73.2 percent.