Congress is currently working on a bipartisan plan to boost defense spending for the next fiscal year. Good news indeed for The Pentagon, but it is more essential than ever that these funds are spent cautiously, on things that we actually need, will actually work, and yes, made in America would be nice as well.
Moderate Democrats are moving the opposite way from a progressive’s push to defund or greatly cut the Pentagon budget and in a rare glimpse of sanity from Capitol Hill, it appears they have the upper hand. The Military Times reported on October 18, “Senate appropriators (have) unveiled plans for about $24 billion in extra military spending this fiscal year above the president’s budget request, the latest blow for progressive lawmakers who hoped to significantly curb defense spending. The move amounts to a 5 percent increase in defense spending for fiscal 2022 over last year, and brings the appropriations bill in line with planned spending outlined in the House and Senate drafts of the annual defense authorization bill.” While the Biden Administration agreed with progressives and sought a cut to Pentagon spending, a bipartisan coalition in the House is supporting a return to levels of spending from 2020. Moderate Democrats in the House Appropriations and Armed Services Committees are working with Republicans to promote defense spending priorities that make good sense. Perhaps there is hope for The Republic.
With the Afghanistan withdrawal disaster in the rear-view mirror--sort of--the focus is moving quickly to Communist China in the wake of its increasingly belligerent behavior. Progressives wanted to use the “draw down” in Afghanistan as a reason to redirect Pentagon funds left over from war to resettling Afghan refugees. The problem with that use of resources is that threats to national security are on the rise—and with a bullet as we say in the music industry. The challenge of providing support to Taiwan, an increasingly aggressive Russia, and the flood of cyber-attacks coming from abroad speak to the urgent need to rebuild defense infrastructure. Apparently, we’re going to need about 45 new Blackhawks as well. *Cough*
One contracting issue being resolved by the Pentagon is a battle over the future of Air Force refueling tankers. Tankers perform the critical function of refueling U.S. and allied aircraft during long missions--many in the Pacific, where aircraft do not have the capacity to make it across on one tank of fuel. Loren Thompson reported in Forbes that “the existing tanker fleet has grown decrepit with age; the most common refueler in the fleet is the KC-135, a plane based on the same airframe as the old Boeing 707 jetliner that first joined the force in 1957.” This has--surprise!-- spurred a battle between two companies seeking the contract for modernized refueling tankers for the Air Force.
On one side is Boeing, an American company, that has the KC-46 Pegasus--an aircraft that has already received a $1.6 billion investment. On the other side is Airbus, a French company, that has a larger competing aircraft manufactured in Europe and proposed to be modified in Alabama to fit the Air Force’s needs. A decade ago, the Deputy Secretary of Defense declared Boeing’s aircraft, “the clear winner,” of future contracts according to Thompson. This was true right up until politics crept into the process (tale as old as time). Some Alabama Members of Congress are pushing the Airbus angle, because, per above, Airbus has promised a manufacturing plant in there to modify their European-built tankers to suit US military needs. In the name of keeping costs low and procuring a proven superior--and American made--aircraft, the final choice seems pretty obvious.
No disrespect to France or to Airbus, and apologies to the Alabama congressional delegation, but it makes little sense to squander precious funds on French designed and built tankers and even more to bring them here to be retrofit. The increased funding for defense should be invested in a broad new infrastructure which includes an modern and efficient tanker replacement for the Air Force. Thompson’s article identified four areas where Airbus fails to measure up to the American made Boeing product: Capabilities; Certification; Cost; and Size. One would think that would be a conversation-ender, but alas. Lobbyists.
Look. When moderate Democrats buck the extreme pressure—harassment, even—from the nutjob wing of their party that seems to currently be ruling the Democrat Conference and line up with Republicans to recognize the need keep America’s defenses strong, modern and effective, and act together to provide the means to get there, that’s really something these days. As such, it is more important than ever for the Pentagon to step up and make good decisions with those increased taxpayer dollars and deliver a strong national security infrastructure in the most careful and smart way possible. And again, American made to the greatest extent possible. For if they fail to do so, these fragile good faith partnerships on the Hill will likely crumble, and the 2023 Pentagon budget could look an awful lot different than 2022’s.