Panel OKs FSX Deal
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted narrowly today to approve the $7 billion U.S.-Japanese program to develop and co-produce the advanced FSX fighter plane for Japan.
On a 9-8 vote, the committee rejected a resolution to disapprove the deal, which has sparked strong criticism on Capitol Hill over technology and economic issues.
A companion resolution of disapproval has been introduced in the House.
Today’s committee action on the FSX followed a closed-door intelligence briefing for the Senate panel on Japanese involvement in a suspected Libyan chemical weapons complex.
Sen. Frank H. Murkowski, R-Alaska, requested the briefing, saying, ″I want to be certain that our co-producers of the FSX, or their associates, are not also co-producing chemical containment components for Libya.
″If there is Japanese involvement in Libyan chemical warfare production, we have the opportunity with the FSX to leverage them out,″ he added.
Murkowski’s concern focused on an industrial complex being built at Rabta, in the desert southwest of the Libyan capital of Tripoli. U.S. officials believe the complex includes a poison gas plant as well as a metal fabrication plant to produce bomb and shell casings.
At a hearing Wednesday, Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger told the Senate committee there was no evidence that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the prime Japanese contractor for the FSX, had any involvement with the Rabta complex.
″Other Japanese companies were involved in the metal fabrication plant, not the chemical plant,″ Eagleburger said.
Resolutions of disapproval to try to block the FSX deal have been introduced in the Senate and House. But even if the resolutions are passed, a two-thirds majority in both chambers would be required to override a likely presidential veto.
Under the deal, General Dynamics and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries would jointly develop and produce the FSX, an advanced version of the American F-16, for deployment by Japan in the late 1990s. General Dynamics is headquartered in St. Louis, but most of the FSX work would be done at its F-16 plant in Fort Worth, Texas.
Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, defending the FSX agreement at Wednesday’s hearing, sought to rebut charges that the deal will give the Japanese vital U.S. aerospace technology.
″We are not giving them unrestricted access to all the technology that goes with our capability to design and produce advanced fighter aircraft,″ the Pentagon chief said.
Cheney, asked how firmly he views a promise by the Japanese that approximately 40 percent of the production work on the FSX would be handled by U.S. companies, said, ″We think that it’s solid - as solid as it can be.″ Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher, who earlier had raised concerns within the administration over economic implications of the FSX deal, told the committee: ″I am confident that this agreement will not harm the economic security interests of the United States.″
Proponents of the FSX deal have argued it will give the United States valuable ″flowback″ of Japanese technology involving composite wing construction and phased-array radars.
But Sen. Alan J. Dixon, D-Ill., said a report by the General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress, has already concluded these technologies are well known to U.S. aerospace companies.
″The evidence clearly before us is that we’re really not getting anything in return,″ Dixon said.
Sen. Alphonse D’Amato, R-N.Y., called the technology flowback argument ″total nonsense and a facade to cover up the shortcomings of this deal.″
Senators speaking in favor of the deal included Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who argued that if the United States scraps the agreement, Japan will build the new fighter completely on its own or in conjunction with a European country.
″There is going to be an FSX,″ Bingaman said. ″I think that if we do not participate we will lose economic benefits and we will lose technological benefits.″
Also backing the deal was Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind., who said voting against the FSX would amount to acting in a ″fit of pique″ over the U.S.-Japan $55 billion trade deficit and other outstanding economic issues.