A few months back, I argued that John McCain had done the right thing in stopping a bad Boeing tanker lease deal in 2001, even if that meant the Air Force would ultimately this year award the tanker contract to Airbus’s parent company, EADS. Subsequently, Dave Bossie argued the other side of the case.
As the GAO reviews the decision, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.) eloquently urges his colleagues in a letter to take caution and not simply to come to Boeing’s defense as an American company, or as a company their district depends on:
First, the case for Boeing being the “American” choice is not all that clear cut. The Air Force awarded the contract to Northrop Grumman, an American company who retains a 58% profit share while subcontracting to the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS) to build the plane’s air frame. Many of the Northrop Grumman/EADS parts will be manufactured domestically, with General Electric engines from North Carolina and Ohio. In addition, the planes will be assembled in Alabama, allowing an estimated 60 percent to be sourced in the United States and supporting 48,000 new American jobs nationwide. Boeing’s own tanker would rely upon a significant number of foreign parts produced in eight other countries, including a Japanese fuselage and a tail made in Italy.
Second, this debate should not be about which company gets the award or which states stand to benefit the most but, instead, which tanker serves our fighting airmen best. According to officials at the Air Force, Northrop Grumman/EADs bid was selected because it was found to be superior to Boeing’s in most of the criteria used to evaluate the bids…I personally have seen no evidence warranting a complete disregard for the judgment and expertise of the Air Force in this matter.
UPDATE — A reader and Vietnam veteran adds:
As a retired AF fighter pilot I agree with you. As an IBM employee told me,” everyone looks at IBM as an American company, but we really have a huge amount of our company overseas.” Same goes with Boeing.
However, speaking as an old fighter pilot, when I think of tankers the only thing I cared about was when I was low on fuel, that the tank be on station, with a good boomer who was capable and ready to plug me in as soon as I coasted in behind him!!!
There are some tales (which I saw and participated in) of some great saves by our tanker guys in Vietnam. They would even come up to the border and into North Vietnam to pick up a fighter screaming for fuel. They would ask that no one say a word though or they would have been court-martialed for leaving station! Those were the guys you appreciated and bought drinks for in the bar. Let us hope whichever tank we wind up with, it is reliable and on station when some fighter/bomber/helo guy needs gas!