Defense Technology International - April 2008 - (Page 50)
INSIGHT EDITORIAL Y ou’ve all seen the parody of a World War II propaganda poster featuring a jocund G.I. holding a brimming tin cup. The legend: “How about a nice big cup of shut the (nonpertinent word) up. Think before you say something stupid.” Good advice that has been disregarded many times in the debate over the U.S. Air Force’s selection of the Northrop Grumman/EADS team to build the KC45A tanker. Disregarded by Boeing, which has not only protested the decision but done so like Basil Fawlty dressing down an up- A Nice Big Cup pity guest. They had better be sure they are going to prevail, or that USAF leadership is going to change. Otherwise, a Boeing badge is going to earn you a frosty reception in USAF acquisition o ces. Disregarded by pundits such as Frank Ga ney of the Center for Security Policy, who raises the possibility that the tankers might feature software “trapdoors that may not become obvious until the proverbial balloon goes up.” Is that likely? Do you think the U.S. hasn’t thought about that one with its own exports after the Iranian F-14s? In which case, is it smart to draw anyone’s attention to it? Disregarded above all by Boeing’s pals in Congress. As I wrote here before, Congress’s mandate to the Pentagon was to conduct a fair and open competition that Boeing would win. Elected o cials from the hills of Missouri to the plains of Kansas and the pines of Washington are mi ed that their orders have been deﬁed and are threatening the nuclear alternative—defunding the program—unless the Pentagon caves in. The weight of the evidence is that the Pentagon ran a competition that was as fair as could be, given di cult circumstances. The contest was confined to two existing airplanes, one bigger than the other. Write the requirement to emphasize a basic tanker mission and downplay credit for exceeding threshold parameters, and you favor Boeing. If you ask for more performance and more pallets, you favor Northrop Grumman. You have to write the requirement one way or the other. Northrop Grumman offered more lift for about the same money, and the Pentagon bit on it as you, I or anyone 50 DEFENSE TECHNOLOGY INTERNATIONAL APRIL 2008 else would. Northrop Grumman has a better platform. The A330-200 is why Boeing built the 787. From the day the A330-200 was launched, it pounded the snot out of the 767 on the commercial market because it could ﬂy farther and carry more people. It’s now doing the same on the commercial cargo side. It’s a half-generation more advanced in wing design and systems. At this point, for Congress to hand the prize, or even half the prize, to the loser would represent a ratting-out on a cosmic scale, one that would be remembered for generations. While the Pentagon has become much more open to non-U.S. suppliers, the import of a major system is a once-in-decades event. Reversing the decision would conﬁrm that the U.S. is not to be trusted. Not the U.S. military, which has an excellent reputation among professionals worldwide, established through countless exchange tours; in that sense, USAF is the best marketing asset that the Joint Strike Fighter program could want. But the xenophobic blather out of Congress has no parallel in the world, except Europe’s far left, and it should not run this show. As for reciprocity, European defense markets are open to the U.S. Even the French ﬂy AWACS, E-2s and C-130s. Europe was pivotal to the F-16 and plays a key role in stabilizing JSF. Britain’s biggest reconnaissance contracts have gone to Raytheon and L-3. My hometown in southern England is rarely free from the rumbling of Chinooks. And there is a positive aspect to the tanker decision that few have picked up on: It creates a dominant force in the tanker/cargo market. Many if not most air forces will eventually need tankers, and it could be argued that one reason more of them don’t have tankers is that there hasn’t been a proven model on the market. Most are custom jobs. The KC-45A will be a fully militarized tanker with hose-plus-boom refueling, a digital avionics backbone and all the coalition connectivity you could want. And the high value-added pieces—militarization, the refueling boom and the engines, for example—will be added in the U.S. It’s not a deal to be messed around with. I —Bill Sweetman Read Sweetman’s posts on DTI's weblog, Ares, updated daily: AviationWeek.com/ares AviationWeek.com/dti
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