The Pentagon has had a dirty little secret for years now: Foreign
suppliers are an increasingly important part of the industrial base upon which
military relies for everything from key components of its weapon systems to the
software that runs its logistics. With the Air Force February 29 decision to turn over to a European-led
consortium the manufacture and support of its tanker fleet - arguably one of
the most important determinants of America's ability to project power around
the world - the folly of this self-inflicted vulnerability may finally get the
attention it deserves from Congress and the public.
The implications of such dependencies were made clear back in 1991 during Operation
Desert Storm. In the course of that short but intense operation, American
officials had to plead with the government of Japan
to intervene with a Japanese manufacturer to obtain replacement parts for
equipment then being used to expel Saddam Hussein's forces
The obvious lesson of that experience seemingly has been lost on the Pentagon.
In the nearly two decades that have followed, it has sought to cut costs
and acquisition timelines by increasingly utilizing commercial, off-the-shelf
(or COTS) technology. Under the logic of "globalization," COTS often means foreign-supplied, particularly
with respect to advanced computer chips and other electronic gear.
Such a posture raises obvious questions about the availability of such equipment
should the United States
have to wage a war that is unpopular with the government or employees of the
supplier. Then there is the problem of built-in defects such as computer
code "trap doors" that may not become obvious until the proverbial
"balloon goes up" and disabling
of U.S. military capabilities becomes a strategic priority to foreign adversaries,
or those sympathetic with them.
Even the Pentagon and intelligence community recognized that this sort of
train-wreck was in prospect had Huawei, a company with longstanding ties to the
Chinese Peoples Liberation Army, been allowed to buy 3Com. The latter's
"intrusion prevention" technology is widely used by the U.S. government
to provide computer security in the face of relentless cyber attacks from,
among others, Communist China.
Now, unfortunately, the Air Force has set in motion what might be called a
"plane-wreck." Opposition is intensifying on Capitol Hill, on
the presidential hustings and across America to the service's decision
to make the European Aerospace, Defense and Space (EADS) consortium the
principal supplier of its aerial refueling capabilities for the next fifty years.
There appear to be a number of questions about the process whereby the decision
was made to reject the alternative offered by the Nation's historic supplier of
tanker aircraft - the Boeing Company. These questions (for example, concerning
the ability to operate on relatively short and austere runways) seem likely to result in that corporation
protesting the source-selection of a much larger Airbus aircraft over Boeing's
Even more telling, however, may be other considerations that argue powerfully
against a reliance on the EADS-dominated offering. A number of these were
identified in a paper issued by the Center for Security Policy in April 2007
and re-released last week, but were evidently not taken into account
by the Air Force:
--One of the owners of EADS, the government of
France, has long engaged in: corporate other acts of espionage against the U.S.
and its companies; bribery and other corrupt practices; and diplomatic actions generally
at cross-purposes with America's national interests.
--The Russian state-owned Development Bank
(Vneshtorgbank) is reportedly the largest non-European shareholder in EADS with
at least a 5% stake. It is hard to imagine that, at a moment when
Vladimir Putin and his cronies are becoming ever more aggressive in their anti-Americanism
and efforts to intimidate Europe, we could
entrust such vital national security capabilities as the manufacture and long-term
support of our tanker fleet to a company in which the Kremlin is involved.
--The enormous U.S. taxpayer-financed cash
infusion into EADS will probably not only translate into more money for the
slush funds the company has historically used to bribe customers into buying
Airbus planes rather than Boeing's. It will also help subsidize the
Europeans' space launch activities - again at the expense of American launch services.
--EADS has been at the forefront of European
efforts to arm - over adamant U.S.
objections - Communist China, Hugo Chavez's Venezuela
--As the Center for Security Policy paper points
out: "Through its aircraft production division, EADS is a huge jobs
program for anti-American labor unions that form the backbones of some of Europe's most powerful socialist parties. By purchasing
products that employ these workers, we will be feeding those who would rather
bite our hand than shake it."
These and other aspects of the selection of the Airbus tanker
(notably, preposterous claims about the number of American jobs that will be
created by contracting out our tanker fleet to the Europeans - see Michael
Reilly's essay at http://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org)
seem to assure that this decision will indeed be a political plane-wreck.
The tragedy is that the replacement of our obsolescent aerial refueling
fleet has already been unduly delayed. The further deferral that now
seems inevitable may mean that we wind up literally sacrificing aircraft and
their crews, or
at least the national power-projection capability we need while this mess is