The Defense Department has taken steps to limit possible damage to the image of the U.S. arms industry abroad from a television documentary on the $2 billion sale of F16 jet fighters to four European countries.
The documentary by Granada, an independent British television group, suggests that the Europeans are paying far more for the plane and getting less in jobs and technology than initially anticipated.
The one-hour program is being aired this week in West Germany, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, and Sweden. It has stirred a reaction in NATO defense circles.
Last week, the Pentagon dispatched a five-page cable to U.S. embassies in Europe asserting that the documentary was "slanted and inaccurate." The cable provided "information [that] will be of assistance in correcting the distorted impressions that may be created," it said.
The American embassy in Brussels issued the Pentagon's rebuttal material in a press release Monday, hours before the program was presented on a Belgain channel.
Prior to the documentary's showing in Denmark on Wednesday, complaints about it were addressed to that country's television network by Danish Adm. I. P. Rodholm, head of the F16 program in that country. Granada provided answers to several specific questions raised about it by Rodholm.
The program, entitled "F16: Sale of the Century," will be shown tonight at 10:15 on WETA, Channel 26, on the series "World." It was produced by David Boulton and investigated by Andrew Cockburn.
A March 9 report from the General Accounting Office has added to the Pentagon's sensitivity to criticism of the F16, whch is being built by General Dynamics for the Air Force.
The GAO report said that a January 1978 data sheet on the plane provided to Congress failed to mention major deficiencies found during operational testing.
In April 1978, GAO reported that the rate of loss for the F16 due to malfunction of the single Pratt and Whitney F100 engine is "currently estimated by the Air Force to be three times higher than that called for."
The F16 is a high performance fighter-bomber intended as successor to the Air Force's F4 Phantom and for Phantoms and F104 Starfighters in use by the European allies. General Dynamics won out over Sweden's Saab, France's Dassault and Northrop in this country in selling the F16 to a consortium of NATO buyers made up of Norway, Denmark, Holland and Belgium.
In making the sale, however, General Dynamics agreed to a long list of conditions, including coproduction of the aircraft in Europe.
The price for the 345 planes ordered by the Europeans was not to exceed $6.09 million for each; European industry was to produce 58 percent of these planes; technology was to be transferred, and the European manufacturers of the plane were to get 15 percent of the sales to other weapons markets.
The documentary suggests that most of the conditions are yet to be met. Both General Dynamics and the Defense Department strongly disagree.
The first NATO-built F16 rolled off a Belgian assembly line in January, but costs are now running above $11 million a piece in Europe, the program asserts. Defense Department sources said yesterday that the increase is due to inflation and the addition of new accessories, and is within terms of the contract with the Europeans.
Nevertheless, the Pentagon acknowledges that the F16 purchases are absorbing a large portion of the defense budgets of the four NATO countries.
A Danish official here said yesterday that, as yet, Danish industry is not producing as many components of the plane as had been hoped, but he said this was attributable to his country's lack of an air frame industry.
Retired U.S. Air Force General John Vogt, who advocated the sale of a larger, all-weather fighter-bomber, says on the program that unless there are "corrections" on the F16, the Europeans "haven't got the right plane."