When Defense Secretary Robert Gates summarily fired the top civilian and military Air Force officials last week, the reason he gave was a grave failure of leadership with respect to that service’s nuclear missions. The low priority assigned by the Pentagon to its nuclear stewardship responsibilities is systemic and acute. Consequently, this act of accountability is both warranted and a needed wake-up call to all the armed forces.
As it happens, there is another ground on which the dismissal of Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne could be justified. He was specifically brought in to clean up Air Force procurement, but ended up presiding over a disastrously mishandled procurement of the KC-X next-generation aerial tanker. The decision to award this contract worth conservatively $35 billion to a team led by the European aerospace conglomerate, EADS, should be considered a firing offense.
In the next few days, the Government Accountability Office is expected to rule on a protest to that award by the losing bidder, Boeing. If the GAO does its job, there is little doubt it will conclude the Air Force unfairly, even cynically, manipulated the acquisition process so as to enable EADS to compete with an aircraft that did not meet the service’s stated requirements and that was significantly more costly to operate.
In documents that have come to light since the contract award was announced in February, including an Air Force briefing provided to the losing company and a redacted version of Boeing’s protest, a number of facts are clear:
The Boeing tanker, based on the 767 commercial aircraft, is a known commodity. Two were delivered to the Japanese air force earlier this spring. Four more are currently being built for Italy. Its American manufacturing line is well-established. Its estimated costs are grounded in data developed during more than 10 million 767 flight hours.
By contrast, the EADS alternative known as the KC-30 is more the proverbial bird in the bush. None has been delivered. None has moved aviation fuel through an operational boom. And none has been produced by the politically-driven, Rube Goldberg-style production line that EADS proposes to establish on two continents – unless, that is, the costs grow. In which case, it turns out, the French-led conglomerate will build all of the U.S. Air Force’s new tankers in Toulouse, France, not Mobile, Alabama, with attendant loss of the promised American jobs.
Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
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