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U.S. Air Force’s KC-45A Tanker lands in Mobile

By By Jo Bonner
Just over a week ago, the Air Force announced it chose the Northrop Grumman/EADS team to build the Air Force’s KC-45A Aerial Refueling Tanker - a tanker that will be assembled here in Mobile.
After the most rigorous, fair and transparent acquisition process in the history of the U.S. Department of Defense, the Air Force made what it determined to be the best choice for the warfighter.
With all the rhetoric of the last few days, it is that voice - the voice of the warfighter - that is most important to this discussion.
The men and women who will fly the KC-45A into harm’s way; the fighter and bomber crews whose lives will depend on the ability to find a KC-45A to refuel as they come off the target; the soldiers and marines in foxholes whose lives may depend on the persistence of air power overhead - these warfighters are the very people who selected the Northrop Grumman aircraft.
The KC-45A tanker offers the warfighter more fuel to offload for combat aircraft, the capacity to carry more patients in aero-medical missions and disaster relief efforts, more passengers, more cargo, more availability, more flexibility, and more dependability - all at a better value to the American taxpayer.
Defense procurement is about giving our troops the equipment they need to fight, to win, and to come home to their families. They judged the Northrop Grumman tanker far superior.
Over the last week, there have been charges that Boeing was somehow disadvantaged in this competition. Boeing has built every tanker the Air Force has ever flown. By all accounts, they were the heavy favorite. Every defense analyst said so right up until the award was announced.
The Washington Post reported last week, “Now that the decision has been made, Boeing’s congressional allies, who for months vigorously defended the sweetheart lease agreement, are suddenly deeply concerned about the integrity of a selection process that looks to this former defense contracting reporter as clean and open as any in Pentagon history.”
The article went on to state, “And although Boeing routinely profits by selling its military hardware and technology to U.S. allies, its boosters are suddenly gravely concerned that by importing wings and fuselages from Spain, France and Germany, the Air Force is creating a grave threat to national security.”
It’s interesting that little fuss was raised when Northrop Grumman joined the competition. Now 14 months later, outrage ensues - in some parts of the country - only after Northrop Grumman has the audacity to actually win the contract.
Let’s talk about a real disadvantage. In order to compete, Northrop Grumman will have to build two new production facilities in the U.S., not in France or anywhere else in Europe.
Boeing facilities are already up and running. Yet, despite these hurdles, Northrop Grumman was able to offer a better airplane for our warfighter at a better value.
That is why a fair and transparent competition is so important; it brings out the best in our defense companies for the benefit of our military.
Let me be clear, this plane will be built in Alabama - by Alabamians, Mississippians, and Floridians with 230 supplier factories in 49 of our 50 states.
In large part, Northrop Grumman will be in-sourcing jobs from offshore to the U.S., continuing a trend that has driven the Gulf Coast region to unprecedented levels of economic success.
Over the past week, members of Congress have started discussing drafting legislation to attempt to overturn this military source selection decision.
This step would be unprecedented. According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), Congress has never intervened to overturn the outcome of a competitive source selection.
For Congress to do as some Members suggest would be counter to longstanding law and would undermine the very integrity of our military procurement process.
The New York Times editorialized late last week, “For Congress to reverse the decision on “Buy America” grounds would be bad for taxpayers: requiring them to pay for aircraft that provide less value for the money. It would also be bad diplomacy and bad business. And that can’t be good for the country.”
I think most Americans would prefer having military professionals pick their equipment, rather than having Congress pick it for them based on political considerations.
Further delay of the tanker program is simply unacceptable. These aircraft are 47 years old, and they are getting older by the day.
As General Art Lichte, Commander of Air Mobility Command, said at the announcement, “…it’s absolutely important and critical for us to get on with this. Anything that would slow down the process has an impact on the warfighter.”
Let us not forget, the KC-767 lease was a sole source deal to lease 100 tankers for $26 billion; that deal ultimately imploded as a result of illegal dealings.
Now, through a competitive process, the Air Force is going to buy 179 larger, more capable tankers for $35 billion - clearly a much better deal.
A new day has dawned on south Alabama; let’s celebrate this news by getting on with the job.
My staff and I work for you. If we can ever be of service, do not hesitate to call my office toll free at 1-800-288-8721 or visit my website at http://bonner.house.gov.
Jo Bonner is a U.S. congressman. His column appears weekly.