Don't Buy Le Tanker

The debate over whether America’s Boeing or Europe’s Airbus should be given the contract to build America’s next generation of mid-air refueling tankers has focused on several important topics, including the embarrassing flaws a recent General Accountability Office report found in the Air Force procurement process, the reshuffling of Pentagon jobs in its wake, and the suitability of both aircraft for the mission, chronicled in an excellent series in HUMAN EVENTS.

All of these are important topics, but Americans should also step back and ask some basic questions before outsourcing key defense systems to foreign firms. Specifically, we need to ask ourselves whether it is wise to maintain a defense manufacturing base here at home; whether outsourcing defense systems would aid foreign governments’ efforts to subsidize their defense manufacturing base at the expense of our own; whether the countries to which we are outsourcing defense systems are dependable strategic allies; and whether the companies to which we are outsourcing our defense systems represent a security risk.

Should America Maintain a Defense Manufacturing Base Here At Home?

First, we should ask ourselves whether or not it is important for America to make sure we have the ability to manufacture all necessary defense systems within the borders of the United States. In the event of a widespread conflict that damages our allies’ manufacturing bases, disrupts international supply lines, or threatens allies with retaliation if they supply America with military components, would our nation still be able to supply our armed forces with everything they need to deter aggression and prevail in a conflict? As fundamental a question as this may be to most Americans, we have not heard it seriously addressed by the officials involved in the acquisition of the new tanker aircraft. Americans deserve a clear, straightforward answer to this question.

Would Buying a Foreign Tanker Subsidize Foreign Defense Manufacturing Bases at the Expense of Our Own?

Anyone vaguely familiar with international trade issues knows that EADS has developed all its major aircraft with billions of dollars in subsidies from European governments. Airbus Industries is like that over-privileged teenager who drives into the high-school parking lot in a fancy new sports car. The kids all know that car wasn’t purchased with babysitting or paper-route money. The kid’s parents bought it for him. Likewise, nobody believes the cash-strapped, delay-ridden EADS has developed their aircraft from retained profits and private capital. EADS and Airbus got their money risk-free from their parents — the European governments whose stated industrial policy is to subsidize an aerospace industry to rival — and eventually overtake — America’s.

Let’s not kid ourselves. The United States Trade Representative has brought suit against Airbus in the World Trade Organization for a reason — European governments have engaged in an ongoing policy of massive, illegal subsidies to Airbus. No one seriously questions this, but for some reason, past Pentagon officials, Defense Secretary Gates, and his chief acquisitions officer John Young have all chosen to ignore it. Why? Have they been ordered to ignore how we might assist a predatory European industrial policy at the expense of America’s aerospace industry, or do they simply think it’s not worthy of consideration?

Are EADS’ Member Nations America’s Strategic Allies?

Without a doubt, the British have earned the right to be listed among America’s most stalwart strategic allies. But does Germany or France make the grade? Germany and France have opposed many of America’s recent military operations, and both have been pushing the European Union to drop its arms embargo on China, so EADS and other defense contractors can begin selling them military equipment. EADS officials have been seen at a recent air show in Iran and have attempted to sell weapons to Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. And since Russia is an EADS shareholder that supports Iran’s nuclear program and is increasingly receding into an oppressive, anti-American crouch, it would seem we would not exactly be handing our vital tanker program over to our best strategic friends. The current fleet of tanker aircraft is — on average — almost 50 years old. In the next 50 years, how confident are we that EADS’s member nations will stick with us when we need them most?

Are EADS and Airbus A Good Security Risk?

As an official in the Reagan Administration, I, like thousands of federal workers before and since, underwent an extensive background check before getting my security clearance. Though some background investigations are more thorough than others, all background checks and security clearances have a few elements in common: They all seek to ensure that an individual has: 1) no criminal record; 2) no history or stated intention of disloyalty to America; 3) no background of embarrassing activities that would subject them to blackmail; and 4) no unserviceable debts that might subject them to bribery or lure them into desperate attempts to make a quick buck.

How do EADS and Airbus stack up on those fronts? A simple reading of the newspapers will tell us that 1) top Airbus executives are under criminal investigation in France for an insider trading scheme, and a British affiliate is under investigation in Britain and the US for a bribery scheme involving Saudi royals; 2) French and German EADS affiliates want to sell weapons to China, Spanish affiliates want to sell to Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, and its Russian shareholders favor a policy of coddling Iran; 3) attempts to cover over criminal charges and Swiss bank accounts listed in item 1 subject EADS officials worldwide to foreign blackmail and influence; and 4) top aerospace industry analysts have reported that financially speaking, Airbus is worth “less than zero,” forcing them to consider doing business with anyone — good, bad or ugly — who offers them hard currency. A background like this would certainly prevent any Air Force pilot from flying a tanker. So why would we hire a company with this shady a background to build an entire fleet of them?

Admirable as it is in many ways, we should remember that the Pentagon is a bureaucracy, weighted down by heaps of rules and regulations that can blind it to the big picture. So it falls to America’s elected leadership – and the voters to whom they must answer — to remind them from time to time that America must act in its own strategic interests. For many reasons, hiring EADS and Airbus to build our aerial refueling tankers defies common sense, and should be stopped.