WASHINGTON -- Two Navy officers have been censured and a third has been forced into early retirement for failing to inform top Pentagon officials of serious delays and cost overruns in the A-12 Stealth aircraft program.
However, reports by the Navy and the Pentagon's inspector general, written last week and released yesterday, conclude that the pattern of failures and cover-ups goes beyond just those officials.
The reports also attribute the problems to poor judgment by the undersecretary of defense in charge of weapons acquisition, the intense secrecy surrounding Stealth aircraft programs and a weapons-purchasing system that discourages officers from reporting bad news up the chain of command.
As a result, Defense Secretary Richard Cheney decided in April to go ahead with the A-12, a Stealth-technology attack plane to be based on aircraft carriers, without knowing of the difficulties.
Moreover, the Navy study states that the A-12's failures are not unique but are instead the outcome of an "abiding cultural problem" in military procurement, and that they "can be anticipated to occur again in the same or a similar form" in other weapons programs.
Officers in charge of supervising weapons systems "do not have positive incentives" to issue assessments that might result in programs being cut, the Navy report says.
The Navy started the A-12 program in 1984, promising to complete research and development for $4.8 billion, with the flight of the first plane set for June 17, 1990. The plane is now at least $1 billion over budget, and its maiden voyage has been set back to December 1991.
Secretary of the Navy H. Lawrence Garrett announced yesterday that he was ordering the early retirement of Vice Adm. Richard C. Gentz, chief of the Naval Air Systems Command. He also issued letters of censure to the A-12 program's executive officer, Rear Adm. John F. Calvert, and its program manager, Capt. Lawrence G. Elberfeld, and reassigned them to other duties.
No action was taken, however, against John Betti, the undersecretary of defense for weapons acquisition, even though the reports concluded that he knew of the plane's problems, yet did not alert Cheney or the deputy secretary of defense, Don Atwood.
The Navy report was the result of an administrative inquiry ordered by Garrett after the A-12's manufacturers, General Dynamics and McDonnell Douglas, announced the cost overrun in June and said they were unable to pay for it by themselves.