The Eclectic One

…Because labels are a poor substitute for thinking

Defense Secretary nixes new tanker program -for now

Posted by Bill Nance on September 10, 2008

The Juice

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced today he was canceling the increasingly heated competition to build the Air Force a fleet of 179 refueling tankers, saying the contest had become so controversial that he would not be able to pick a winner before President Bush left office in January.

In case you’ve not been keeping up with this story, The U.S. Air Force has been trying for several years now to get a new tanker to replace the aging fleet now in service.

Air-to-air refueling tankers are a critical asset to the USAF because they allow for longer air patrols and longer range missions for both it’s bombers and tac-air. The fleet today consists mostly of KC-135 tankers, which are fine aircraft, but also one of the most heavily used and aging in the Air force’s inventory.

The controversy really started when the Air Force announced that it had selected a Northrop design that was a partnership between the U.S.-based Northrop and Airbus, the heavily subsidized European aircraft manufacturer. The winning design in the competition was to be built around a converted A300 Airbus airframe.

Boeing, who lost the deal, immediately vowed to oppose the award and has been working hard in congress to lobby for a new competition. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates removed responsibility for the program from the Air Force after a GAO report showed it had mishandled the process.

I was highly critical of the decision and even wrote our local congress critter a nasty-gram on the subject. I objected for essentially two reasons:

  1. Forcing a US company to compete with a foreign one which is heavily subsidized by the EU is not a balanced playing field
  2. Using any foreign company’s products to supply our critical defense needs is a bad idea period. I’m all for paying a license fee to use foreign designs and making products here in the U.S., but making us dependent on foreign countries for spare parts etc. is such a bad Idea I can hardly believe anyone is even contemplating it.

Small countries have no choice but to rely on others to supply their defense needs. The United States is in no such position, and it would be dangerous for us to place ourselves at the mercy of a foreign power in such a way.

Imagine for instance the U.S. embarking on a military venture to which the Germans and French completely opposed, to the point they cut off spare military parts. Guess where Airbus makes stuff? It’s less far-fetched than you might imagine. Remember the life-span of these planes is 30 years or so.

Let’s all hope this gets sorted out soon. The Air Force really does need these birds.

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One Response to “Defense Secretary nixes new tanker program -for now”

  1. pedigree said

    Go figure. With a French based consortium like this, we could only expect a huge government backing in the form at the cost of the EU tax payer. Im suprised it got this far down the line before it was either axed or Boeing started getting extremely serious in the Supreme Court. Even though I live in Europe (and am not European), I believe that this is the right choice. These tankers should be made in the USA, not so much for spare parts issues (look at how the Army can outfit and repair the M1 Abrams without new parts) but so that Federal Government has serious input into control and process and is able to fully support a local industry. If the EU went to Boeing in this situation, the French people would burn the country to the ground in protest (and of course, blockage the Channel Tunnel for no other reason other that theyre good at it)

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