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Jewish World Review
March 11, 2008
/ 4 Adar II 5768
The government's plane-wreck
Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.
The Pentagon has had a dirty little secret for years now:
Foreign suppliers are an increasingly important part of the industrial
base upon which the U.S. 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
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 modified 767.
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 safely
entrust such vital national security capabilities as the manufacture and
long-term support of our tanker fleet to a company in which the Kremlin
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
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) 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 sorted out.
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JWR contributor Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. heads the Center for Security Policy. Comments by clicking here.
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