Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Congress Erupts Over Air Force Tanker Contract

Stunned by the announcement of Washington States Boeing being beat out on the new Air Force Tanker contract by Northrop Gruman/EADs to replace the aging fleet of aerial tankers, Senator Patty Murray says she is “shocked, angry, and wants answers.”

The Boeing Company, based in the Seattle area of Washington State, was the odds on favorite to win the contract to build a new fleet of aerial tankers, a potential $40 Billion for the first 80 tankers. The Boeing 767, nearing the end of its commercial life was to be the frame the offered tankers were to be based on.

Northrop’s KC-30, based on the EADs Airbus 330 passenger jet ended up winning the contract. The 330 is bigger, enabling it to carry 20 percent more fuel, 20 percent more passengers, and 30 percent more cargo. It can also carry 45,000 pounds more fuel than Boeing's KC-767. It will be designated the KC-45 when pressed into service.

The loss of the contracts means that Boeing’s 767 line may wind to a close by 2012 when the commercial orders run out, costing Boeing and Washington State a potential of 9,000 new jobs.

Northrop, who will build the new tanker in a to be built factory near Mobile, Alabama, claims it will add 25,000 new jobs to that region. Many parts will be built in Britain and France to be shipped to Alabama for assembly into the new planes, raising the ire of Union workers, as well lawmakers from both Washington and Kansas, where Boeing also assembles aircraft parts.

Upon announcement of the award, a few dozen Union Workers protested outside their Union Hall displaying signs saying, “American workers equal best tankers” and “Our military deserves the best.”

Richard Michalski, general vice president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, told reporters,

“We’re not going to sit back and just let this happen.” He added, “his group was working with members of Congress to either stop this funding and kill this project, or start the competition all over again,” citing a meeting he held with Rep. David Obey, (D. Wis).

Leveling harsh criticism at Gen. Arthur Lichte, one of four Air Force officials who announced the contract, Michalski said,
“That general should look at where his paycheck comes from. That general should quit his job, move to France and join the French Foreign Legion.”

In a statement released March 3, Senator Murray said,
“At a time when our economy is hurting, the decision to outsource our tankers is a blow to the American aerospace industry, American workers and America’s military,” adding, “This contract puts our warfighting ability in the hands of a foreign government. We're handing countries like France and Russia control of our most important military asset – our tankers which support all of our men and women in uniform.”

A bi-partisan letter sent to both Secretary of Defense, Robert M. Gates and Secretary of the Air Force, Michael W. Wynne asks why the promised debriefing hasn’t taken place and that it be initiated immediately.

Duncan Hunter, Republican Representative from California and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee has tried several times to insert legislation into the defense authorization bill that would prohibit the Pentagon from awarding contracts to foreign companies that receive government subsidies, thwarted each time by Sens. John McCain (R-Az.) and John Warner (R-Va.) and others who have challenged the language.

Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi said Congress should examine the Air Force contract. She said,
“The Air Force's decision to award the contract for a much-needed modernization of the nation's aerial tanker fleet to Northrop Grumman and Airbus raises serious questions that Congress must examine thoroughly," citing among the questions, “national security implications of using an aircraft supplied by a foreign firm, as well as whether the Air Force gave sufficient consideration to the contract's effect on American jobs.”

On Monday, March 3, Congress erupted into a fierce debate as Representatives from areas that stand to lose and those that stand to gain expressed their opposition or support for the award.

Sen. Richard Shelby, (R. Ala) says the contract award does not threaten national security. Said Shelby,
“Nothing could be further from the truth. The prime contractor of the team that won, Northrop Grumman, is no less an American company than is Boeing.”

Democrat Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both expressed their disappointment in the Air Force decision. Clinton said,
“I am deeply concerned about the Bush administration’s decision to outsource the production of refueling tankers for the American military.”
Obama said,
“[he] found it hard to believe that having an American company that has been a traditional source of aeronautic excellence would not have done this job.”

Sen. John McCain (R. Az), who has cinched the GOP presidential nomination, says that he hasn't made up his mind on the contract adding jobs were not the key issue. He said,
“I’ve never believed that defense programs, that the major reason for them should be to create jobs. I’ve always felt that the best thing to do is to create the best weapons system we can at minimum cost to taxpayers.”

McCain was also instrumental in wresting a previous tanker contract from Boeing after unethical behavior was uncovered that led to prison terms for a senior Boeing official and a senior Air Force civilian.

One resident from the Puget Sound area, commenting at FreeRepublic.com speculated,
“when the Pentagon team came to Seattle they were met along the road by hordes of protestors with signs saying, ‘out of Iraq,’ ‘Impeach Bush,’ ‘Defund the War Machine’ and all the usual stuff. When they went to Alabama the highway was lined with American flags as far as the eye could see.”

UPDATE 1: Northrop Grumman Responds to Inaccurate Comments Concerning the U.S. Air Force KC-45A Award Decision


Northrop Grumman, before the companies merged in 1994, has a long history of building and supplying our Military with aircraft. Northrop supplied the N-3PB patrol bomber, the P-61 Black Widow, the XB-35 flying wing, the F-89 Scorpion, the F-5 Freedom Fighter/Tiger II, the T-38 supersonic trainer, the F/A-18 Hornet, F-20 Tigershark, B-2 stealth bomber and is working on the YF-23.

Grumman aircraft are largely known for their excellent performance throughout World War Two and after with the F4F Wildcat, the F4F-3S Wild Catfish, the F5F Skyrocket, the F6F Hellcat, F7F Tigercat, F8F Bearcat, G-21A Goose, G-44 Widgeon, JF Duck, TBF Avenger, the XP-50 Skyrocket, and later the A-6 Intruder, the E-2 Hawkeye, the OV-1 Mohawk and the F-14 Tomcat among many others.

Grumman also built the Apollo Lunar Module.

To cry they are a foreign company due to their teaming with EAD’s for the Tanker Contract is just ludicrous.

UPDATE 2: Boeing Reponds, Boeing defense chief: 767 tanker was better, cheaper


desmith said...

This Contract should Not Go to the
Northrop Gruman. It should Go To Boeing Company. It Should Stay In the United State's. And Be Built By american Workers. Because American People Are the Ones Fighting the War To Protect the American People. So it Should Stay Here And Give the American People a Job They Can Be Proud Of

LewWaters said...

Since I'm in Washington State, desmith, I'm not very happy over this either. But, there is also a lot of disinformation being spread about it.

Northrop Gruman is an American Company who partnered with EADs. The planes will be assembled in Mobile, Alabama, which is Right To Work State compared to Seattle Washington, based Boeing being heavily Union. That may have a lot to do with the extreme opposition to this contract.

While the Northrop model is to be based upon the European Airbus 330, Boeings 767 is near the end of it's commerical life and is smaller, slower and carries less cargo.

Washington will not lose jobs over this, just a hoped or additional 9,000 in the Seattle area. Alabama stands to gain over 25,000 jobs.

In all the ire over so much of the Airbus coming out of Europe, opponents fail to mention that Boeing receives many of it's large parts from China, Japan, Brazil, Italy, France and Australia.

Like I said, I don't like this very much either, but inciting opposition based upon untruths isn't right.

In the end, I want the Military to receive the very best product and best value for our tax dollar.

SlantRight 2.0 said...

Being reared in the Great Pacific Northwest and hearing the outcry from Boeing I have to say I was irked.

After standing back and calmly digesting all the information, it is becoming apparent the Defense Department has made a shrewed deal that actually may provide more jobs for Americans than Americans may lose in Washington State.

The biggest point that struck me is Unionized Washington State vs Right to Work Alabama. Kind of sounds Leftists vs Conservatives does it not?

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that the Europeans bought a few of our aircraft over the years. The F16 was a joint project. Seems fair that the tanker should be a joint project with our NATO allies.

From what I've read, Boeing's team was arrogant and treated the AF contract team like they were wasting their time. Grumman's got a better plane and a better deal for the taxpayers.

Seattle should get over themselves, they aren't the first region to lose a big defense contract.

LewWaters said...

Not to mention, Rick, that Boeing outsources almost 60% of their manifacturing to China and elsewhere.

Boeing got whooped where they expected an easy ride.

Time for them to move on, you're right.