Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Tanker - The Needs of the Air Force Comes First

The Air Force is buying a new refueling tanker aircraft. By now, most have heard that they chose the Northrop Grumman/EADS Airbus model over the Boeing model. There has been controversy. For a moment forget where each plane would be built, assembled and who is providing the parts. The question comes down to this: What are the needs of the Air Force?
All members of the military are probably asked that sort of question at one time or another when they query why they got a certain assignment (posting), job, or task. The initial answers vary from “that’s where you’re needed” to “someone has to do it.” The final answer always boils down to “the needs of the military come first.”
The Air Force tries to be accommodating when they can. Leadership knows that when airmen are where they want to be and doing what they want to do they are more liable to be happy and productive. But again, at times things just cannot work out that way and the needs of the Air Force are first and foremost the most important aspect of a decision. Sometimes airmen end up where they don’t want to be doing what they don’t want to do.
This brings us back to the tanker. Companies were solicited for designs and pricing. They were given minimum specifications that had to be met. Two proposals were considered and evaluated. One plane could carry more fuel and cargo, fly further, and based on those factors was cheaper.
The Air Force took all things into consideration including their “needs” and chose what they thought would best accomplish the mission. That choice was the Northrop Grumman/EADS submission to the competition – the KC-45.
The decision to go with the KC-45 has generated a storm of controversy in Congress, the states involved, industry, bloggers, and the general public. This controversy is not arising over the plane or its capabilities, but rather where it’s going to be made and where the parts are coming from.
I will not get into that argument on either side. Neither (I think) will the pilots who fly them, the pilots who receive fuel from them, or all the support people whose job it is to keep them in the air. All will be focused on one overall aspect – successful completion of the mission.
Meanwhile, back in the hall of justice, congress is calling for hearings, Boeing is filing a protest, and the Air Force is defending their decision. All the first tow things can do is delay production of a vital aircraft that the Air Force needs to replace its aging fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers.
The KC-135 has been an extremely valuable asset that has contributed to many successful operations. However, this plane designed and built 50 years ago is getting long in the tooth and expensive to maintain. Unlike people, we can’t enroll aircraft into AARP and get a reduction in health care.
Not much can be done about Boeing lodging a complaint. It’s their right. They missed out on a large contract that would have sustained them for years. It would have kept large amounts of people gainfully employed.
I understand why some lawmakers in Congress from Washington and Kansas are upset that Boeing didn’t get the contract. The feel jobs are being taken from their constituents. They need to get over it.
I can understand why some lawmakers from Alabama and I imagine Florida and Mississippi are jubilant. Having the plane assembled in Mobile will be an infusion of jobs and money (both building the plane and in support jobs) into their economy. I think the good people of that area will build some of the best planes ever to serve the military. I congratulate them on their luck.
Members of Congress always talk loudly that the military have the best equipment to do the job. It is time to make them stick to their words and not to treat this as a campaign promise that flutters in the wind. There are enough breezes created by Mother Nature without any help from them.
It is also time to welcome the KC-45 into the inventory so that the needs of the Air Force come first.

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