It’s going to be one of the biggest “single buy” Air Force acquisitions since World War II: 179 aircraft at a cost of $200 billion over a 20-year period. The plane — a “flying gas station” — will replace the half-century-old U.S. fleet of KC-135 and KC-10 refueling tankers. Designated the KC-X by the Air Force, it’s been on the drawing board for years. Not one of the new tankers has been built, but it’s already in serious trouble. The problem: Some Americans seem intent on ensuring that a foreign aircraft manufacturer is awarded the contract to build these planes because it will bring a handful of jobs to their state. If they succeed, it will be a major disaster for American taxpayers and American jobs.
For more than a decade Air Force wonks have been tinkering with the design and specifications for a new aerial tanker. The planes are an absolute necessity for the kinds of worldwide deployments being conducted in the global war on terror — or “The Long War” — in Washington’s new vernacular. In fairness, there are numerous factors beyond size, speed, range, payload and price that must be considered by the decision makers, including arcane procurement rules and regulations dictated by the Office of Management and Budget, Congress and even the World Trade Organization (WTO). Not the least of these is the Berry Amendment, which mandates that our armed forces must “Buy American” unless no U.S. product or equipment is available.
I for one can’t wait to see the “Free Trade at Any Cost” crowd has to say about this.