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In the Tanker

Who is to refuel our fleet? Shared responsibilities? Also: Hong Kong insight. YouTubers. Iraq and the bigger war. McCainiyucks. Plus more.

7.27.07

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COMPETITORS IN ARMS
Re: Quin Hillyer's Refueling a Political Fire:

In alphabetical order: Bell, Chance-Vought, Convair (Consolidated-Vultee), Curtiss-Wright, Douglas, Lockheed, Martin, North American, Republic, no longer exist or no longer make airframes. As admirable as Boeing undoubtedly is, competition is America, and Northrop Grumman had better get a fair shake.
-- Frank Natoli
Newton, New Jersey

I do not take issue or sides with regards to Mr. Hillyer's championing of the Northrop Grumman/EADS tanker airplane candidate over the Boeing, as I have not evaluated the two airplanes to give an informed opinion. But I do disagree, for purely logistical reasons, with his idea of splitting the contract between the two companies if it means, as Mr. Hillyer's piece seems to imply, permitting each firm to build their own unique aircraft. Doing so would result in two different airframes, requiring two aircrew training programs, separate depot and home station repair programs, two systems for spare parts acquisition and distribution, and complicate transient maintenance requirements. In other words, nearly every facet of manning, operating and maintaining a complex weapon system, and their associated costs, would have to be duplicated. And I can tell you, it isn't cheap.

An alternate plan might be for the Air Force to select one design and employ both companies in its manufacture, as was done with the Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber in WWII, where over 18,000 airframes were built by several companies, including Consolidated Aircraft, Douglas, North American and Ford Motor. This might engender the competition that Mr. Hillyer endorses.
-- Paul M. DeSisto, Lt Col, USAF (Ret.)
Cedar Grove, New Jersey

Buy American?

Interesting column, especially since the author talks about a high-value competition that is still in the source selection process. What so-called "industry experts" and "insiders" have to say about the new tanker, and who has the edge against whom, has absolutely no bearing on the final decision by the source selection authority. I'm fairly certain "industry expert" Scott Hamilton is not a source selection team member. Does he know the specifications of the proprietary information offered by both bidders? Does he know how well those specifications will meet the source selection criteria? Does he even know what the source selection criteria are? Does he know the relative scored weighting between the fuel delivery requirement, cargo weight requirement, and passenger capacity requirements contained in the Request For Proposal? That's what I thought.

The idea of awarding a chunk of the contract to both EADS and Boeing would be a huge disservice to both the USAF and the American taxpayer. Ask yourself, why are we going towards the Joint Strike Fighter concept for the F-15C, F-16, and A-10 replacement? Because the DoD bean counters have finally realized that a simple, linear logistics tail for a single weapons system platform that spans multiple services is a whole lot cheaper and faster than trying to take care of multiple fighter airframes. The same goes for a single tanker airframe -- a split award would force the Air Force to set up two separate supply points, two separate depots, and two separate maintenance chains. The resulting logistics tail, over the lifespan of the tanker weapons system (and yes, it is a weapons system) will cost many times more to the taxpayer than the actual upfront cost of procuring the aircraft in the first place.

Solution? Award the entire contract to the vendor providing the best value to the Air Force, and by way of that mammoth clearinghouse called the US Government, to the taxpayer.
-- Owen H. Carneal, Jr.
Yorktown, Virginia

Is this a paid advertisement for Airbus, or what?

I had thought that the Spectator was more neutral and fact-based than this, but now I wonder.

The author states "What I know about airplane technology could fit in a thimble, with room left over; and I used to live in Mobile." Yes, that about sums it up; writing about a subject about which he knows next to nothing, and which may happed to benefit him personally. I really wish that the Spectator could stick to a higher standard of authorship in the future.

A few points Mr. Hillyer might acquaint himself with:

* It sounds awfully American to describe the 'NGE' aircraft as from Northrop, but when you get right to it, it's an Airbus. The entire basic design was by Airbus. So call a spade a spade, please.

*Airbus is the same company that has repeatedly used huge subsidies to sell their planes at, by any rational accounting standard, a loss. Including this airplane. Is this the sort of practice a conservative would reward?

* Britain bought the A330...so what? The wing was designed and built there, so they're just shopping locally.

* Italy and Japan operate the 767 tanker. Don't they count? If export sales are an indication of superiority, then consider all of them.

* Comparing two such aircraft is an enormously complicated task. The outcome all depends on how valuable the customer considers many diverse attributes. So a reference to one chart, produced by one of the competitors, is hardly an unbiased or comprehensive statement.

* As an example of how the choice is difficult and non-intuitive consider: the 767 is slightly smaller, which seems like a disadvantage in a transport aircraft. But one plane can only refuel one other. The same amount of money will generally buy more of the smaller aircraft, so that means that more aircraft can be refueled at one time with the smaller plane.

* "Buy American" does indeed matter. I don't recommend it as an inviolable policy, but in general it makes good sense. A purchase from Boeing is an investment in America...buying the A330 is an investment in Europe. There is a difference.

Thank you.
-- Jesse Nadel

One of the strongest arguments against what Quin is suggesting is stated up front in his argument, the EAD design is clearly superior in every way that matters. Add to this that these aircraft will be in service over 40-50 years and those life cycle costs are going to add up to the purchase price of a lot of aircraft we don't get down the road. The fundamental problem here is simply that Boeing is offering an older less efficient design vs. the Airbus A300 class. That's why the 787 Dreamliner was designed. That Boeing isn't or can't offer a tanker version of the 787 to compete with the A330 design says something important. The current choice is like General Motors offering a 1990 Silverado up against one of the newer Nissan or Toyota equals. The life cycle cost difference between these two aircraft would eliminate the Boeing offering alone all else equal. I would prefer a homegrown design but for the same reasons I bought a 1989 Honda Accord and still drive it every day I wouldn't buy an American design just because it was American designed. Back when there was competition within the American Aircraft industry we probably would have had more choices than the older and less capable 767 design.

An enterprising student might suggest we pick the better plane and split the work between both EAD and Boeing. That has been done in other military contracts but I suggest the original savings one design offers over the other gets eaten away in government mandated overhead between the two companies over time. If the contract stays between the 767 design and the A330 design, Boeing loses if cost, performance and life cycle cost matters. Boeing needs to step up to the plate with a modern design and real soon.
-- Thom Bateman
Newport News, Virginia

Quin Hillyer replies:
I am deeply appreciative of all the letters, especially those from current and retired military, and including a number of letters written to my private account rather than for publication -- some of those letters taking issue with my position, some of them saying that from their experience in the Air Force, I am right on target. I am in no position to argue with any of them. I stand in awe of their service.

I continue to believe that, in the long run, competition offers too many advantages to ignore, as does the flexibility the Air Force would acquire by having two different aircraft to meet unanticipated needs many years down the line. But as long as disagreements with my conclusions stem from considerations other than purely political ones, I utterly respect those who disagree, and I thank them for their letters.

QQ TIPS
Re: David Donadio's Forbidden Chitty:

It is no mystery why the Chinese government has cracked down on the QQ virtual currency. QQ threatens to create a parallel currency outside the control of the central government. China operates strict capital controls. Anyone familiar with the Chinese people's legendary capitalist ingenuity could easily envisage offshore counterparties facilitating ever larger transactions, such as buying a house in California, or a factory in Michigan, using QQ currency. Loss of control over its own currency, and money laundering on a vast scale, are indeed the Chinese government's concern.
-- Paul Curley
Hong Kong

David Donadio replies:
QQ coins are tied to the value of the yuan, and as George Selgin says, that basically means they're just an offshoot of the existing currency system, not a new parallel one. They can only ever be a stand-in for yuan.

True virtual currencies -- with their own floating exchange rates -- would face the problem of not easily corresponding with existing price systems, though some monetarists contend that they'd end up reaching equilibrium exchange rates of their own.

THE MORON VOTE
Re: R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.'s Tubist Americanos:

I don't deny the truth of the term "moron vote," and I agree with almost all of the article, until we get to the following:

"And there you have blogs," Wolfe continued. "The universe of blogs is a universe of rumors, and the tribe likes it that way."

Lumping all blogs, and by inference those who read them, into a group of moron voters is a great mistake. I refer Mr. Tyrrell to the blogs Powerline, HughHewitt.com, Instapundit, Michael Yon Online, The Fourth Rail, etc.

In fact, I would reverse Mr. Wolfe's statement to read:

The universe of American MSM is a universe of rumors, and the tribes like it that way.

The folks who post at the blogs listed above do not specialize in rumor or tribal drum beating. They provide careful analysis of current events and sober, fact-based opinion. The quality of the analysis and opinion on these sites exceeds, in my opinion, most similar information available from today's MSM.
-- Doug Santo
Pasadena, California

Mr. Tyrrell's observations about the recent YouTube "debate" reminded me of my own regarding the prior Democratic candidate convergence, the one held at Howard University, moderated by Tavis Smiley, and focused almost exclusively on matters of interest to African-Americans.

One of the first questions asked what the candidates would do to improve the economic opportunities for and welfare of young black men. The answers were just various shades of predictable pandering: programs for this; programs for that; programs for this, that and the other thing. But what struck me was how not one candidate uttered a single word, not one, about personal and parental responsibility.
-- C. Vail

Well, it's not as if anybody, YouTubers or Mainstream Media, has ever been able to ask a serious question and get a serious answer out of Hillary Clinton...
-- Robert Nowall
Cape Coral, Florida

ESCAPE FROM IRAQ
Re: Philip Klein's The Iraq Dodge:

There are two assertions in Mr. Klein's essay that caught my attention.

"For several years, Democrats have accused the Bush administration of using the War on Terror as a pretext for invading Iraq. Now, Democrats are using withdrawal from Iraq as a pretext for abandoning the War on Terror."

I agree that plans from Democrats about how to fight the war against Islamic terrorists have been in short supply, but the same is true of Republican candidates who are desperately trying to reconcile party loyalty and political self-interest. In fairness to candidates from both parties, these are complex and confusing times. The importance of Iraq in the "war on terror" and the possible consequences of leaving or not are being hotly debated. Conservative columnist David Brooks admitted on NewsHour with Jim Lehrer that he was thoroughly confused about the right course of action in Iraq. It was refreshing to hear such an admission from a pundit of any ilk. I think Mr. Klein is wrong to claim that advocating withdrawing from Iraq is a prelude to abandoning the war against violent jihadists. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the war in Iraq has worked against our self-interest in the larger "war on terror." Taking one side in this debate is not the same as abandoning responsibility for fighting those who would repeat 9/11.

"...the primary voters they are competing for simply do not think that the threat of terrorism is a big deal."

If true, why is this case? Complacency bred from the absence of any successful attacks since 9/11? The fact that the fighting has been born entirely by our all volunteer armed forces who have been abused in almost every conceivable way for their service? The fact that the rest of us have not even been asked to shoulder increased taxes to pay for our protection? An administration that has cried "wolf" too many times?

I think Mr. Klein is wrong. I think people from both major parties and independents think terrorism is a big deal. I think they wonder whether or not enough has been done at home to protect our ports, our chemical and petroleum refining facilities, our water supplies and other targets. I think, like Mr. Brooks, they are legitimately confused about the right course of action in Iraq and disturbed that al-Qaeda has reconstituted itself during the current administration's watch.
-- Mike Roush
North Carolina

I don't think that it's too much of a stretch to say that Al Qaedaian viewers of CNN were delighted by both the questions and answers proffered during the recent Democrat panderpalooza. If they didn't know it before, they now realize just how profoundly unserious this nation is about the only really DO wish us dead, and cannot be wished away.

Until our borders are monitored effectively and the threat of terrorist attack, both from without and within, is definitively compromised (it will never be neutralized), everything else is window dressing.
-- Richard Meade
Bayside, New York

NO WAY
Re: Jennifer Rubin's Charlie Black Revives McCain:

Memo to Ms. Rubin: In case you haven't been following the news lately, the only people left on the McCain "Straight Talk Express" are McCain, Mr. Black, you, and possibly Mrs. McCain. Just how exactly your fawning puff piece, with Mr. Black, the unpaid senior adviser, that regurgitates the same old worn out platitudes about McCain, revives the McCain campaign is a mystery to me. But then again, I'm not sufficiently nuanced to appreciate the higher thinking of the inside the beltway crowd. How is it, after all this time and after all the machinations that McCain has done since 2000, that both you and Mr. Black are still oblivious as to why the base has rejected McCain? Mr. Black claims that McCain is well known for not "suffering fools and phonies." Well, guess what? Neither does the base.
-- A. DiPentima

What a waste of time and bandwidth.
-- Judy Beumler
Louisville, Kentucky

PARADISE LOST
Re: Brandon Crocker's A Paradise Mandated by the Government:

Time was when the National Geographic featured stories about arctic explorers, mountain climbers, and remote villages. But, as this brief oddly incongruous little piece of ideological promotion shows, it has since gone the way of mainstream media flesh and become yet another organ of the left. This is further demonstrated by its repeated chanting of the Global Warming mantra, and, like the others, it sees evidence of Global Warming everywhere much as scientists of past ages eagerly recorded proof of the spontaneous generation of life or of phlogiston. I must confess that I miss its former evenhandedness and even the ads for expensive schools which once occupied its back pages -- I even miss the old cover!
-- Michael Hofstetter

MYSTERIES OF FAITH
Re: Mark Tooley's Martin Luther Comes Out:

Mark Tooley wrote an article entitled, "Martin Luther Comes Out."

My response to his article is to quote from Luther's Small Catechism. "This is most certainly true!"

Peace in the Lord!
-- Rob Buechler, Pastor-ELCA
Trinity-Bergen/Faith Lutheran Parish
Starkweather, North Dakota

TAKING SEITZ
Re: Russell Seitz's letter (under "Dr.Einstein, We Presume") in Reader Mail's Rebuilding National Geographic:

Mr. Seitz, you are a piece of work, an amusing piece of work, but a piece of work nonetheless.
-- Mike Showalter
Austin, Texas

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