March 07, 2008

Buy the Best Tanker

It doesn't happen very often, but the New York Times has a defense-related staff editorial today with which Abu Muqawama heartily agrees (comments below):

According to Air Force officials, the refueler developed by the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company, or EADS, the parent company of Airbus, in partnership with Northrop Grumman will perform better than Boeing’s in many ways. Based on the Airbus A330, it is bigger and can transport more fuel, cargo and people than Boeing’s 767. Boeing’s delays in delivering tanker planes to Italy and Japan likely also hurt its bid.

Defense procurement is a global business. Boeing sells military aircraft and other defense systems all over the world. It and other American companies could suffer if a move to wrest the tanker contract from EADS and Northrop provoked a protectionist backlash in European capitals. American allies are already dismayed by the protectionist tone of this year’s presidential campaign.


For Congress to reverse the decision on “Buy America” grounds would be bad for taxpayers: requiring them to pay for aircraft that provide less value for the money. It would also be bad diplomacy and bad business. And that can’t be good for the country.

The real issue here is that this was an enormous contract. No one opens their mouth to complain when U.S. infantrymen go to war with an M-249 SAW made by Belgian arms giant Fabrique Nationale. That's because small arms contracts are smaller and fly under the radar. (Yes, Fabrique Nationale has a long-standing partnership with Winchester and Browning, but EADS submitted their bid for the new USAF tanker with Northrop Grumman.) So that's Abu Muqawama's question for the gallery: U.S. infantryman fight in Iraq every day with foreign-made equipment. Why no clamor about that?