The malign influence of Sen. John McCain could again undermine the indispensable procurement of refueling tanker aircraft.
For nearly a decade the Air Force has been trying to replace its Eisenhower-era fleet of refueling tanker aircraft. It has failed twice in rather spectacular fashion. Once because a senior Boeing executive bribed an Air Force procurement chief with a job offer. And once because the Air Force broke federal contracting rules to award the contract to Boeing’s competitor (then a Northrop Grumman–European Aerospace Defense Systems consortium) for a too-large and too-slow Airbus aircraft.
And the double failures were due, in part, to the malign influence of Sen. John McCain (R?-AZ), who has been to the Air Force what malware is to your laptop.
This time, my alma mater had bloody well get it right. There is no more room for error. The refueling tanker is the most urgent and crucial weapon system acquisition in among all the other things the armed forces need. And that’s because the aged fleet of 415 KC-135s is too old, frail, and worn out to perform the mission.
Our KC-135 tankers are on average 46 years old. Only about 38 of them were able to fly in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and though many have been re-engined and maintained at great expense, too many cannot fly the unfriendly skies and the number that are on “operational restrictions” continues to climb. If a class-wide problem develops that grounds the whole fleet, it would impose catastrophic limitations on almost everything our military does. The older the fleet gets — and the harder it’s used — the likelihood of such a class-wide problem grows every day.
According to an Air Force briefing given when the last tanker procurement failed, the plan to buy fifteen aircraft per year — a very ambitious plan — will still mean the last KC-135 will be eighty years old when it is retired. We need to buy the right new tanker, and get it in the air as fast as possible.
Without the tankers, fighters can’t fight, bombers can’t bomb, and transport aircraft can’t enable the deployment of American forces around the world in a matter of hours. In short, no tankers, no superpower. Buying replacements should be pretty simple. But it’s not, because the Europeans contend that any restriction of the tanker buy to U.S.-built aircraft — regardless of the reason — is protectionism.
Those objections come from nations that refuse to invest in their own defense. European defense budgets — minuscule already — are being slashed to save social welfare programs across the EUnuchzone. And it should surprise no one that the French, according to one report, are increasing subsidies to restaurants by € 3 billion while cutting € 5 billion from their defense budget.
But those subsidies and cuts aren’t the issue on the tanker. The French, British, Spanish, and German subsidies (called “launch aid”) to Airbus are.
Later this week, the U.S. Air Force will receive yet another round of bids (called proposals in Pentagon contracting jargon) from the two companies competing for the 179-aircraft, $30 billion-plus program. One key question is whether the Air Force will account for the Euro subsidies in evaluating the prices proposed by Boeing and Airbus.
John McCain has said repeatedly that they shouldn’t and conducted a years-long campaign to prevent the Air Force from counting the subsidies against the Airbus price. But the Air Force can, and must both ignore McCain and factor in the subsidy.
The purpose of adding the subsidy is to level the playing field. If the French want to subsidize their aircraft workers to sit around smoking Gauloises, we don’t need to contribute $30 billion in U.S. dollars to their subsidies.
But last week, the World Trade Organization ruled that the “launch aid” subsidies that European nations use to enable Airbus to compete with Boeing were illegal.
At issue in the U.S. complaint against the EU subsidies were the “launch aid” low-cost loans, an indeterminate amount of which are never repaid, and other subsidies to a whole range of Airbus aircraft ranging from the huge new A-380 to the huge and not-so-new A330-200, which is the aircraft Airbus is offering to the Air Force for the tanker deal.
In truth, the Air Force should never have to consider the subsidies because the A330-200 is too big and too slow to perform the mission. As I’ve explained before, the laws of physics are the same wherever you go, and bad things happen when you ignore them. The A330 is too big, has too low a top speed and cannot accelerate fast enough to perform the tanker’s job of refueling our fighter aircraft. You’d have to assume that it could break the laws of physics to do the job the Air Force requires.
So price shouldn’t be an issue for the Airbus. It should be excluded from the competition before that question comes up. That the Air Force didn’t exclude it the last time around is one of the principal reasons the Government Accountability Office overturned the last contract award.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
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The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?