Friday, September 25, 2009

Tanker Wars

A KC-135R with its flying boom fully extended. These are the latest versions of an aircraft that was first entered service in 1957. 428 of them continue to fly for the USAF today. (U.S. Air Force Photo)

Are you ready to Rumble!!

I can hear that now being shouted in the halls at Wright-Patterson AFB where the Air Force will sort through and attempt to award yet another contract to replace their big wing tanker aircraft. 13 of these aircraft will be retired this year and between them they have an average service age of over 51 years. The remaining 415 have flown on average for almost 46 years.

A replacement for the aging KC-135 R's that are being flown extensivelyin the support of combat operations over the skies of South West Asia and the Middle East but also, all along the way from CONUS east and west coasts in the massive Air Bridge that is flown by the many cargo aircraft hauling gear and equipment into Europe and into the war zone.

A Boeing B-52D (S/N 56-0582) is refueled by a Boeing KC-135A (S/N 55-3127) cira 1960. My guess is both of these aircraft are still in service. (U.S. Air Force photo)

I hope the Third time will be the charm. This program has been clouded in such a dark cloud you would think it was the Navy trying to steal this program away from the Air Force. This mission is vital to both services. You cannot have a strategic force with global reach without these tankers.

But, and there is a huge one here, what about buying American? Northrup-Grumman will be submitting a proposal that includes their partner Airbus Industries. Airbus will be the supplier of the airframe and tanker boom assembly while Northrup-Grumman will provide "integration" services. Who knows that that means, I think it is a simple cover to allow Airbus to have an outlet for their product here in the USA under an American Corporations name. Believe me, there is virtually no equipment that requires 'integration' save maybe secure radio capabilities. This aside, how does one reconcile bringing to this country something built in a foreign country that is so vital to our superiority of the air?

It begs questioning and you have to wonder if anyone at the Pentagon level has really thought this through. No one has published a rationale for letting this foreign based design into our military complex. Now I appreciate the position the Air Force and the Pentagon are screwed into, we have only one wide body airframe builder left in the United States. How can you have a competition with only one manufacturer? Well, you can't and thus they have left the door open for Airbus, because they don't trust Boeing to bend them over the nearest barrel.

This problem is not germane to wide body airframe manufacture; there has been a lot of consolidation in all of the technology sectors that provide material and equipment to the US military. This includes ship building especially in the very large hull arena where only a single builder of America's large Aircraft Carriers is available and the Navy is at its mercy for CVN's. And not just for building them, overhaul of all CVN's is conducted at this same facility and it is all very expensive.

This failing, in my opinion is a direct result of the business schools here in the US. We have too many professors teaching 'business' who have never run a business themselves or have had any real practical experience in the business community. At the same time, there has been within Academia a huge push to sell MBA degrees. They have mutated the business schools to the point where they actually graduate people with a Bachelors Degree in MBA Studies. Yes, think about that a moment. Here is someone whose only degree is the study for another degree, and we are unleashing these people into management positions of our largest companies. Let's face it, if you are a small business owner you would not put someone in charge of you company whose only experience in business came out of a book. Yet, that is what has happened across the country to the large corporations.

The result, we have managers who only understand how to build a company by acquisition. Buying and selling companies. This is why you get a CEO of GM capitulating to the Union's to the point where future benefit outlays cripple the company, they don't actually understand the business, just the business model which is usually only a three or four year plan.

Thus, the shrinkage of the overall industrial base and the risk to both national interest and stability.

So, when the two proposals come to the Air Force, there will be fighting, look for the cries of 'Buy America' and the finger pointing at both manufacturer at their large out of country labor force and supply pool. Both aircraft will have large foreign content and both will have to fly Flag.

I just don't know which one would be best for America.

BT: Jimmy T sends.


Buck said...

I just don't know which one would be best for America.

Well, in my characteristically highly opinionated manner: I do. Boeing. There's lotsa stuff in the AF pipeline about tankers today... I may post something on this subject as well.

JimmyT said...

I'd like to think that Boeing can pull it off but in this politically correct world, that great legacy may be lost.

BT: Jimmy T sends.

virgil xenophon said...


FWIW my first ride in an USAF aircraft was an orientation/PR flt in a KC-135 out of Lockbourne AFB, Columbus Oh, during AFROTC summer camp back in '65. We flew out over Presque Isle, Maine to refuel a Bongo52 (Presque Isle is an emerald gem in an ocean of blue--what a sight from the air in the summer!)

Just had to toss some esoteric BS trivia in.....

On topic, I'm surprised the Navy hasn't weighed in more on this, as they are such big users anymore.