Today at Tanker War Blog we are fighting the procurement of an EADS tanker but the implications go far beyond just the shutting an American company out of the aerial refueling business for the next 20 years and the job loss associated with such an event.
In fact this contract has a number of large procurement implications for strategic and tactical airlift in the future.
An areas of great speculation about this contract has always been why the Air Force only very late in the RFP process decide that it might want a larger aircraft.
Aviation industry analyst Scott Hamilton nicely sums up one of these possible reasons for this bigger-is-better preference switch at the end of page 3 in his recent commentary paper:
It’s also worth remembering that one of the reasons the Air Force selected the KC-30 was for its greater troop and cargo carrying capability than offered by the KC-767.
USAF Lockheed C-5 fleet is getting old—the average age is approaching 28 years. The Air Force also doesn’t want any more Boeing C-17s when the current order book is filled.
The KC-30 has the ability to supplement the aging, and increasingly unreliable, C-5s and the over-taxed C-17s, which now support two wars.
Many on the Hill believe the reason the Air Force started to look at a larger aircraft is that, in DoD's mind, in order to buy more F-22s and keep the F-22 assembly line open, it must first cut funding for the C-17 and close the C-17 assembly line. The Air Force, it is reasoned, can not continue to afford to keep both assembly lines open.
So by purchasing the KC-30 the Air Force can afford more F-22's and not suffer adversely from the C-17 line closing, as it plans to make up for the airlift requirements using the KC-30 as a cargo hauler.
The only trouble with this line of thinking is that the KC-30 is not a true cargo aircraft. So eventually in the future more strategic airlift will need to be purchased. And, what will be the only true strategic cargo aircraft available after the C-17 line closes? Why the heavily subsidies and EU protected EADS/Airbus A400M.
It is feared that to get more F-22's, the Air Force is not only willing to buy an Airbus derived tanker, but shut the C-17 assembly line, cut back on C-5 modernization, and possibly purchase the Airbus A400M in the future. It should also be noted that if they do buy A400Ms the Air Force would inevitably buy less American made C-130Js.
So if you are an American working on the C-17, the C-130J, or the C-5 Galaxy Reliability Enhancement and Re-engining Program be warned, your job is probably next to be given to EADS.
We would also warn those airlines and aircraft owners that are now part of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) that the rules and need for this program may change if the KC-30 is purchased; so you might want to pay a bit more attention to this contract than you have in the past.
Rest assured though, the issue of how the selection of a tanker was tilted to overwhelming favor airlift capabilities without sufficient evaluation, study, or consultation will most certainly be an issue Congress will take up before this controversy is over.
For the record, most of us here at TWB hold the position that the Air Force needs more F-22s, more C-17s ,and new tankers. DoD should not give the Air Force roles and missions and then not fund the needed items. Cutting corners and forcing the purchase of a tanker/freighter hybrid is the wrong move. In the long run it will only provide less capability in both areas and cost more overall.