Time to pick a tanker

            Unrelenting domestic and international chicanery by governments, business and politicians continues to delay a government contract to procure urgently required aerial tankers for the military. Boeing and the European Aerospace Defense Systems, builder of Airbus aircraft are the primary bidders.

            Jed Babbin’s column at American Spectator lays out the three-sided business, political and foreign government intrigue, including Arizona’s Sen. John McCain’s choice to side with foreign interests. McCain supports an unsuited and possibly unsafe airplane over an American company’s product the USAF desperately needs.

            Babbin writes, “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.”

            On top of foreign supply issues, and size, speed and acceleration issues, the EADS KC-45, an Airbus A-330 variant, has structural design and fly-by-wire computer controls are problematic in combat conditions and the Pentagon’s cost per unit will now be adjusted for illegal government subsidies adding millions to the price

            The highlights of the World Court’s ruling against EADS/Airbus subsidies include:

– Launch aid for every Airbus program deemed illegal and damaging

– ‘Prohibited’ A380 launch aid must be withdrawn ‘without delay’

– Legal principle set: airplane programs must be funded on commercial terms

– Government funding of Airbus infrastructure and R&D programs also ruled illegal           

            Defense Secretary Robert Gates bemoaned the failure of EADS to sign on a new North American after Northrop-Grumman backed out on the trans-national partnership. Boeing first won a contract in 2003 that was rescinded to due to bribery charges causing a delay into 2008 when EADS won. That contract was also rescinded under a cloud of controversy.

New bidder wants in the game

            U.S. Aerospace and Ukrainian aircraft maker Anotov want another 60 day delay in the Pentagon’s multi-billion dollar KC-X aerial tanker replacement contract bid which are due July 9. The partnership offers a choice of existing two and four-engine aircraft designs, the AN-122 and the AN-124-200,  and an as yet un-built AN-112 aircraft designed specifically to meet KC-X specifications.

            As with a contract for EADS/Airbus tankers, major components and parts produced by foreign manufacturers would be shipped to the U.S. for assembly. Notwithstanding the unsuitability of the Airbus submission, the WTO subsidy ruling, or the unknown suitability of an Antonov tanker, the Pentagon must consider the risk of putting the country’s military capability under the influence of a foreign government, or a coalition of foreign governments.

            U.S. relations with Russia, former Eastern Bloc nations, and our allies in England, Spain, France and Germany could suddenly and radically alter depending on the world’s geo-political shifts. As Babbin notes, at an ambitious replacement rate of 15 tankers per year means already antiquated 40-plus year old KC-135s patched with baling wire and duct tape will be 80 years old when the last one is retired. Limits on the number of available tankers flyable has already impacted the military’s operational capability.

            After a decade of stops and starts, there should be no more delays granted for the late-to-the-game hopeful representing an unproven foreign-built tanker airplane under an ink still wet “strategic cooperation agreement” signed July 1 in Kiev, Ukraine in hope that it will pull small, cash-strapped U.S. Aerospace out of debt.

            U.S. Aerospace/Antonov promises a substantially reduced cost per airplane, but the risk of depending on the partnership of a foreign manufacturer working with a recently formed and unproven large enterprise is untenable. It is too late in the game to delay the procurement process again.

            Babbin, USAF ret., is dead on the money when he writes, “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.”

UPDATE:

          BigGovernment.com has more on the WTO ruling

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About zingstrom

Journalist, free-lance writer, photographer and aviator.
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