What one-on-one commercial competition couldn’t do, the US Air Force and supplicant elected reps and Senators did in one fell swoop. They essentially broke the back of our home-grown aircraft industry when they selected the Northrup Grumman-EADS KC-45 tanker to replace the aging fleet of KC-135 and KC-10 military air tankers. The deal, worth $US35 billion over 10 years to build 179 replacement tankers will ultimately be worth over $US100 billion over the next 30 years, considering upgrades and replacements of the entire fleet of 660+ tankers. It also gives EADS, the parent company of Airbus, a dominant toe hold in the US military aircraft marketplace. Such a position is unprecedented in our history.

The competiton pitted Boeing and it’s 767 passenger liner-based tanker modification, the KC-767 against the team of Northrup Grumman/EADS with their passenger airline-based Airbus A330, the KC-45(A). Although the Air Force/Department of Defense haven’t released their entire rationale for the selection, they cited that the larger size of the KC-45 as the key selection factor. According to Air Force Gen. Arthur Lichte: “More passengers, more cargo, more fuel to offload.”

But this isn’t the whole story. The Boeing KC-767 aircraft would have been fabricated/assembled entirely in the US, mostly at their Everett, WA assembly facility. The Northrup Grumman/EADS tanker airframe will be assembled in Europe, and will have final assembly converting it to a tanker here in the US at a new facility in Mobile, AL. This aircraft will also use GE engines manufactured in Ohio and North Carolina. There is talk that the A330 freighter production will shift to Alabama after completion of the new EADS facility there.

To say that an there was an incredible full-court press in the presentation and selection process by the Alabama Congressional complement is an understatement. In particular, Senators Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby were key in delivering this contract to Northrup Grumman/EADS and insuring that at least 2,500 high paying jobs now, and many more in the future, will find a home in Mobile, Alabama.

But the bringing home of the bacon, as it were, by the good Senators of Alabama will only benefit the state of Alabama in the long run. As was mentioned previously, the entire airframe of the KC-45 tanker will be made by EADS/Airbus in Europe. As a result, the jobs to perform this skilled assembly work and the profits from the sale of the airframe will stay in Europe. Not in the USA as they would have if Boeing were selected. The selection of the EADS-team also means that for the very first time in our military’s history the US will be procuring a substantially foreign-designed/made aircraft and using it as a part of our nation’s defense. In the past, even though we were part of NATO and other military alliances whose member countries had military aerospace manufacturing capacity/capability, the US was the key supplier of military hardware in the relationship(s).

The selection of the KC-45 tanker changes this. Does this selection mean that our military is willing to outsource other (future) vital military hardware to foreign suppliers? How long will it be before we select a Chinese or perhaps Russian manufacturer for a future military aircraft requirement? Even though EADS is a European corporation that is sited within countries that have been our allies, it takes away an element of control and sustainability from the onshore purview of our military. It might seem xenophobic and nationalistic on my part, but I also think it unseemly that we have done something essentially unthinkable during the historical time periods until now — select a foreign aircraft over an American competitor.

Certainly I am in favor of open competition for government contracts, and we should  look for the best deal for our dollar. But the best deal isn’t just all about money! In matters of military procurement, there is an element of nationalistic pride, of self-sufficiency and of the protection of skilled American jobs. The military’s long-term relationship with Boeing did merit consideration and weighting, in my opinion, in determining the final outcome of this massive contract. Merit that I believe didn’t come into the equation!

If losing this contract harms Boeing, then we do have something to worry about. It signals that we have become so international-egalitarian in our thinking, even regarding our national defense, that we simply don’t care if our homeland military-industrial complex suffers. And because of this I fear the worst! I fear that this decision will come back to haunt us as a nation for many years to come. What happens to our national security interests when one of the nation-owners of EADS becomes a potential adversary of the United States in the future — how will we handle this situation? Will we just do without, because we put savings before security in the past? Could this potential situation put us at a strategic disadvantage?

I hope not. But as I’ve said before, hope is a poor substitute for the surety of a reliable, stateside supplier of military hardware. Alabama might profit from this arrangement, but their interests are not the interests of our entire nation. I pray that the Senators who are lauded for their tenacity in bringing home this deal to Mobile, Alabama won’t be seen as sellers-out of the interests of our country.

Only time will tell.