Though the Air Force describes the KC-X as their "top procurement priority," it has yet to issue a formal request for proposals. In "DoD-speak" an RFP is the mechanism by which a project is described and bids are solicited. Two drafts of the aerial tanker RFP have been circulated since September. But last week, the Northrop Grumman/Airbus team threatened to drop out of the bidding -- complaining that the process to evaluate the different aircraft overlooks aspects of their Airbus model that make it more competitive with Boeing.
The Pentagon's response, according to industry newsletter Aerospace Daily, has been to offer Northrop/Airbus "one more pass" at revising the request for proposals. Though Air Force officials noted that they have "held more than 20 senior-level meetings 'to ensure the RFP is comprehensive, understandable and adequately reflects the war fighter's requirements,'" there is much more to this than a matter of wording in a contract negotiation.
Industry insiders say that behind all the maneuvering is a decades-long dispute between the United States and the European Union over commercial aircraft subsidies -- and allegations of corruption and rampant bribery within the EADS/Airbus empire.
In 2003, on the eve of the annual Paris Air Show, The Economist published an extensive investigative report detailing "irregularities" in aircraft manufacturing and sales. Boeing, and others in the industry were cited for questionable practices. But EADS/Airbus was singled out for fraud and bribery on a massive scale designed to boost sales to airlines in Switzerland, Belgium, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, India, Canada and Syria.
Though new EADS/Airbus managers Thomas Enders and Louis Gallois vow that they have improved the ethical culture in the European aerospace giant, others disagree. According to The Atlantic Times, an English language paper published in Germany, EADS/Airbus is still being wracked by "delays and turbulence." One industry insider told me, "If anything, the use of Schmiergelder ('grease monies') to facilitate sales became more rampant as Airbus sales tanked in 2006 and the vaunted Airbus 380 white elephant collapsed amidst design flaws and faulty wiring."
Fair market competition on a level playing field is great -- as long as everyone plays by the same rules. Apparently, that isn't the way EADS/Airbus has played in the past. If Airbus is awarded the contract to build the KC-X, American taxpayers will, for the next two decades, be subsidizing a company whose practices and products are questionable at best; Boeing, an essential U.S. exporter will be damaged and thousands of high-tech American aerospace jobs will disappear forever in Toulouse, France and Hamburg, Germany. We ought to increase exports of American products, not American jobs. When it comes to the KC-X, wouldn't it be better to simply "Buy American?"
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.