Friday, April 18, 2008

Joining a Mature Engagement

The USAF tanker contract debate, like most controversies, has its fair share of sub-squabbles and sideshows. The current intensity on both sides of the tanker issue and the size of the corresponding fur ball though seems to be growing exponentially.

Even we are now in need of a scorecard to identify the ever growing list of players and issues:

With all the flurry of attacks and counter-maneuvers going on it is easy to get thrown out of one’s OODA loop and lose sight of who the main competitors in this controversy really are: Boeing and Airbus.

We have seen many try to underplay the reality of this decades old grudge match, or muddy the water with lead contractor arguments, but we retain our view that if the NG/EADS bid used any other airframe other than an Airbus product there would be no controversy. (Airbus’ parent company EADS using an U.S. company as the lead contractor was a masterstroke, it even has some believing the A in A330 stands for American.)

As Pat Buchanan has succinctly written on the conflict:

"In its first 25 years, Airbus sold 770 planes but did not make a dime in profit. It was started as a socialist cartel, subsidized by the governments of Spain, France, Britain and Germany, to invade and capture a market owned by Americans who built the planes that won World War II.

Airbus drove Lockheed and McDonnell-Douglas out of the business of commercial aircraft and almost took down Boeing."

Or as Senator Baucus has said:

Don’t take my word for it. Former French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin himself publicly pledged “We will give Airbus the means to win the battle against Boeing.”

True to Mr. Jospin’s promise, decade after decade, project after project, European governments injected massive amounts of subsidies into Airbus – including $15 billion in launch aid. These subsidies underwrote between 100 percent and 60 percent of Airbus’s commercial aircraft development costs, including the A330 aircraft on which this tanker aircraft is based.

These subsidies allowed Airbus to develop aircraft under terms unavailable to unsubsidized market participants. Or as a former British Trade and Industry Secretary boasted: “We are not standing to one side and leaving everything to the market…”

The trouble for Boeing in the tanker controversy is that they have to go through several layers unrelated combatants, DoD procurement officials, misguided free-marketers, and EADS lobbyists/supporters before it can land a punch on their intended Airbus target.

At Tanker War Blog we maintain that allowing an Airbus product to be part of the tanker competition prior to the resolution of the US Trade Representative's dispute over Airbus subsidies/launch aid was a critical mistake that should be reversed.

In his definitive text Fighter Combat, Robert L. Shaw reiterates the old fighter pilot proverb:

“…elements should refrain from joining a mature engagement of roughly equal opposing forces in which friendly fighters appear to be holding their own.” Pg 315

The Department of Defense made a strategic mistake in forcing the Air Force to enter the already mature engagement between the roughly equal opposing forces of Airbus and Boeing that our government appeared to be successfully handling in the World Trade Organization. The Air Force once engaged though compounded the problem with its tactical error of immediately shooting down the friendlies.

So we offer the following guidance to all those who are now in, may be thinking of joining, or find themselves accidentally in the tanker war fur ball: Correctly identify the bogeys, dont' shoot the friendlies, keep you head on a swivel, and be prepared for this thing to get even more chaotic.

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