Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Air Force Has Some Explaining To Do

Although Tanker War Blog has had issues with some of his briefs in the past, we are glad to see that today highly regarded defense analyst Loren Thompson takes the Air Force to task for their lack of transparency on the tanker selection process.

In his latest brief Tanker Controversy: Questions the Air Force Must Answer Dr. Thompson specifically he calls into question:

1) Why the Air Force says both planes will cost the same to operate when the Airbus plane "burns over a ton more fuel per flight hour"?

2) How can the Air Force say that building the EADS/Airbus tanker presents the same risk when the EADS plant in Alabama and its workers don't yet exist?

3) How can the unrealistic assumptions used in the Air Force selection such as longer and stronger runways be relevant?

4) How can it be said that EADS/Airbus have record of superior past performance when they don't have a history of making tankers?

Dr. Thompson ends his brief with this assessment on the tanker selection process:

Whatever else this process may have been, it definitely was not transparent. Even now, neither of the competing teams really understands why the competition turned out the way it did. It would be nice to hear from the Air Force about how key tradeoffs were made, because at present it looks like a double standard prevailed in the evaluation of the planes offered by the two teams.

It is good to see that others are no longer simply accepting the DoD party line and are beginning to ask serious question about the tanker contract.

For too long EADS supporters have tried to paint questions about the selection as whining, or insults to the integrity of the U.S. Air Force, or even as slaps in the face of service members. EADS and its supporters are pained to admit it, but they must realize that demanding answers to these questions is good for the Air Force and is the only way we will get the right procurement decision.


Aurora said...

I remember Dr. Thompson's comments immediately after the announcement about the KC-30 winning by a country mile and that the contest wasn't close. Some "insider" apparently passed him misleading information. I'm glad to see that he is finally calling the Air Force out on this. Perhaps the GAO will sustain Boeing's protest after all? I remain convinced that the only way that a stake will be driven through the heart of this misguided deal is via the political process, but the GAO may yet surprise. After all, the "experts" were wrong about which plane the USAF would pick; perhaps they're wrong here as well? If Boeing's protest does get sustained, that very loud sigh of relief that will be heard in the aftermath will be coming from Senator McCain's campaign headquarters!

Lawrence Hume said...

Get over it!! I didn't see anyone complaining when domestic air carriers were purchasing airbus nor did anyone complain when domestic air carriers were outsourcing boeing aircraft overseas. Secondly, to hear the bitter cries from the seattle senator saying there is a national security issue must have forgotten that the US military allows south korean MRO to maintain the entire Heavy maintenance program for the Pacific fleet. So my point is quit whining!!!!! Airbus is a quite reliable aircraft and inexpensicve to maintain.

Aurora said...

So it's OK if the French/German/Spanish governments shun the U.S. GPS and develop their own? We should get over it?

So it's OK if the French/German/Spanish governments develop their own tactical transport and shun the best airlifter ever developed, the C-17, to maintain and develop their own defense infrastructure. We should get over it?

Likewise, we should allow a key component of our defense aerospace infrastructure to atrophy and buy a heavily subsidized product from a company founded for the very purpose of wresting aerospace supremacy by the U.S. We should get over it?

I think not.

This is a defense contract. If Pan Am, Braniff, TWA, Eastern, US Airways, and United (do you see a pattern here?) want to purchase the subsidized Airbus, that's a decision for their boards. However, a defense procurement has many dimensions, one of the least of which is "what's biggest".

This award is a misguided and does us serious harm. Let the Euros buy their own products. I can't fault them for that.

Anonymous said...

Dear Aurora,

what is your point about GPS? Would you use an 'unreliable' system switched off at will by e.g. France?

The C-17 is a strategic airlifter while the A400M is rated as a tactical airlifter. The cargo capability is about 40 t, right between C-130 20 t and C-17 about 80 t. Maybe the French/German/Spanish governments don't want to ruin their airfields with such an oversized aircraft. The C-17 is heavier than the KC-45 and sucks twice as much fuel.

"Let the Euros buy their own products."

You know that German Lufthansa is at the moment the only costumer for the new Boeing 747-8I.

Aurora said...

The reason the Euros are building Galileo and not relying on the U.S. GPS is to recognize the advantages of having a system independent of possible political interference by Washington and to realize the gains that will accrue to their own aerospace industries. I have no fault with this rationale. We should be doing the same thing with respect to our own military procurements. As concerns the C-17 versus the A400, the distinction of “strategic” versus “tactical” is spurious and misleading. The primary reason that the Airbus governments opted to go independent is to bolster their own aerospace capability; not because they wanted a purely “tactical” air lifter. The fact that the A400 may actually fly someday is almost secondary. The most important thing about the A400 is that it would be built in Europe and create European jobs. Take the engine for the A400 as an example. No manufacturer in the west had more experience than Pratt & Whitney (Canada) on turboprops, but the Airbus governments elected to independently develop their own. Speaks volumes. The irony of it is when/if the A400 actually takes to the air, it will likely cost almost as much—maybe even more—than the C-17 for a lot less capability. But…the French, Germans, and Spanish will have a home grown aircraft and their domestic aerospace industry will benefit. It’s hard to argue with the economic/strategic logic of this decision.

WRT “let the Euros buy their own products”, I was referring to items of military kit, but as I note above, they hardly need my urging. I listed a slew of U.S. airlines that purchased the subsidized Airbus products in the past; some are still in existence. You note that LH purchased the 747-8I. Is that a military purchase? ;-)

I repeat once again: the decision by the U.S. Air Force to select the European Airbus over a home grow product from the U.S. is short sighted, misguided and deleterious to the long term health of the U.S. military aerospace complex. Congress and the next administration should reverse this misguided “deal”, regardless of the forth coming GAO decision.

Anonymous said...

Dear Aurora,
can EADS switch of a US KC-45 fleet like the GPS system? I don't think so. Even Iranians are able to keep their Tomcats and Boeings flying.

[i]No manufacturer in the west had more experience than Pratt & Whitney (Canada) on turboprops, but the Airbus governments elected to independently develop their own. Speaks volumes. [/i]

Speak Venezuela.
EADS may wants to sell that aircraft to other nations outside the EU. Therefore they dislike restrictions opposed by American partners.
Rolls-Royce, a member of the EuroProp alliance with MTU, Snecma and ITP, got a long tradition with turboprop engines. Rolls-Royce builds the engines for the current C-130 fleet.

[i]The irony of it is when/if the A400 actually takes to the air, it will likely cost almost as much—maybe even more—than the C-17 for a lot less capability.[/i]

EADS sold the A400M for a fixed price at about 100 € million. EADS is suffering from that deal. Sure the price in US-$ is rising. Maybe in 5 years it'll be $250 million due to exchange rates.

As I recommend a turboprop needs less fuel than a fan engine.


Aurora said...

The thrust of my comments was directed at the implications for our defense industrial base. Galileo and the A400 are perfect examples of the extent the Airbus governments will go to foster their industries.

As for the French "switching off" the KC-45, well...they could decide to with hold spares at a critical time. It cannot be rulled out.

Anonymous said...

As for the French "switching off" the KC-45, well...they could decide to with hold spares at a critical time. It cannot be rulled out."

So you say the US aircraft industry is less capable than the Iranian to provide spare parts?
It cannot be ruled out.