Air Force Refueling Tanker

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader saw a piece on the Reuters news wire that surprised him a little bit. Here is the piece: Congress in turmoil over Air Force tanker decision Here are some excerpts:

A U.S. Air Force decision awarding a $35 billion aircraft contract to a team including the European parent of Airbus landed like a bomb in Congress on Friday, drawing howls of protest from lawmakers aligned with the loser, America’s Boeing Co.

The Congressional delegation from the Seattle area said they were “outraged.” Kansas Republican Rep. Todd Tiahrt vowed to seek a review of the decision “at the highest levels of the Pentagon and Congress” in hopes of reversing it.

Boeing has big facilities in both Seattle and Wichita, which stood to gain from the long-term project to build up to 179 aerial refueling tankers. Although Boeing was favored to win the contract, the Air Force awarded it to a partnership between Northrop Grumman and Europe’s EADS.

Washington Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Democrats, along with six other lawmakers from the state said in a joint statement: “We are outraged that this decision taps European Airbus and its foreign workers to provide a tanker to our American military.

“We will be asking tough questions about the decision to outsource this contract. We look forward to hearing the Air Force’s justification.”

Once again your Maximum Leader isn’t sure what to make of his government. Is your Maximum Leader offended that a consortium containing Airbus has won the contract to provide the tanker? At some base (and he does mean base) level his sense of Nationalism is offended. He’d like to see Boeing win every major airplane contract out there. But is an Airbus consortium winning this contract a bad thing? Probably not.

What is unusual is that if one is really concerned about our defence industries “going overseas” then shouldn’t you be concerned about microchip and semi-conductor manufacture “going overseas?” Shouldn’t one be concerned about the origin of all the components that go into defence industries? This decision is just one reasonably minor cog in the greater wheel of globalization.

Now, your Maximum Leader is a staunch free-trader. But he also is concerned about American industry. Unfortunately, the time for us (that is the United States) to be worrying about where the major components of our military equipment (or computing equipment, or vital goods for our technology infrastructure) come from was - as best he can tell - about 30 years ago. That ship has sailed. The US economy is integrated into the world economy. A factory in China could shut down and our supply of iPods (to use a mundane example) would be affected. A major power outage in India could affect US hospitals being able to treat patients. (It’s true. Some hospitals have outsourced the “reading” of machine outputs - like MRI or CAT scans - to doctors in India.)

This is the world we live in today. On the whole, it is a good world to be a part of. But it is not without risks. But to complain that US national security is endangered by the award of a contract to a company that happens to have a European component is ridiculous.

If our government wants to create a domestic military-industrial complex (humm… that is a catchy term…) that artificially keeps certain industries active (if not truly viable without government assistance) in the US; your Maximum Leader supposes that our government could choose to do that. But it would be refreshing - if not nigh impossible - for a politician try to understand the economic reality of the world and explain it to their constituencies.

Then again… Economic jingoism does make one feel better…

Carry on.

Polymath said:

I am all for free trade as well, but apparently there is a problem with the Airbus aircraft which would make the Boeing aircraft my preference. The Airbus has no manual over-ride; a computer limits input from the pilot which could cause damage to the airframe. The Boeing allows the pilot to make extreme maneuvers sometimes necessary in a combat environment, even for a tanker.

Scary bit about the power outage in India. I am sure we can eliminate that by imposing socialized medecine in the U.S. Ha!

Huck Foley, grovelling minion said:

It’s possible that the Airbus/Grumman bid was simply a better deal, offering higher carrying capacity or lower long-term maintenance costs or what have you. That’s certainly possible, and if a corporation were making this purchase, it’d be a good bet. But with a government purchase like this, it’s hard to be so confident inna whachacall underlying economic rationality of the deal. Poltical actors are motivated by a host of considerations other than strict economic rationality; that’s what makes Keynesian economics such an unreliable tool. Still, I’d expect most of those considerations (especially Protectionism, and the Nationalism to which your Maximum Leaderness refers, above) to work the other way. The pressures from unionized voters and from jingo-dribbling commentators would ordinarily be expected to kill this deal, much as the Dubai Ports deal was killed.
That’s what makes me think that this probably IS a good deal, because it had to be good enough (or at least look good enough) to overcome those objections. For me personally, this quick shallow glib analysis of mine shall serve in lieu of my actually looking into it, which would, you know, require effort and stuff.

With all due respect, the quotes used by His Maximumness leave out some important parts of the story, things I blogged on:

1. Boeing lost the contract in part because of illegal bidding activity — the government official handling the contract was also negotiating with Boeing for a job, and ended up in prison.

2. One of the individuals instrumental in cleaning up the dirt surrounding this contract was John McCain. The congresslings leading the charge to reverse this decision include A) those representing the Seattle area of Western WA, who happen to have (D)’s next to most of their names, and B) Nancy Pelosi — people not exaclty predisposed to being on McCains side at this point in time.

3. As an article I linked to pointed out, major components of the Boeing aircraft are made in Japan and Italy — not exactly playing to the jingoist crowd.

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