Next generation of tankers is in good hands

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Toulouse France-based Airbus Industries originally withdrew from the competition to build America’s next generation of mid-air refueling tankers. While most Americans would like to see competitive bids for military contracts, we had hoped we were rid of this one.

The Airbus-vs.-Boeing tanker competition has been a long and troubled bidding process that has shed far more heat than light. Regrettably, it increasingly became a political struggle rather than a technological one.

The truth is that Airbus’s A330 would never have been a serious competitor were it not for political pressure from Capitol Hill forcing the Pentagon procurement team to give Airbus extra credit for nearly every difference its plan had compared to Boeings. The Airbus plane is larger, so the political pressure was to give them extra credit.

The problem with that was that the larger size of the Airbus tanker was a disadvantage in the real world, not an advantage. Its larger size meant it will not land on many of the runways our current tankers use. That would mean the larger plane was less available than the medium-sized Boeing tanker. A larger plane with more fuel will do our airmen no good whatsoever if it is not available exactly when and where combat pilots need it to be.

Alternatively, we could have upgraded the airfields to accommodate the larger, heavier Airbus tanker, but that would have cost a lot of taxpayer money. If this were a genuine price competition, those additional military construction costs should have been counted, and they weren’t to any significant degree, because of political pressure to shoehorn Airbus into the competition.

For these and other reasons, the American people should have been thankful that this particular competition should end with Airbus bowing out, allowing Boeing to build the new fleet. Boeing has six decades of experience building tankers for our military, and their fifth-generation boom is hopefully only a short time away from passing needed fuel to US and allied planes.

The Boeing 767 tanker, which Boeing refers to as its “NewGen” tanker will meet, or exceed all the requirements the Air Force procurement team asked for during the competition, and will do so at a lower cost than Airbus would have charged.

The Boeing tanker features:

  • The same digital flight deck Boeing is using on its new 787 Dreamliner, which displays information to pilots on screens 75 percent larger than on the Airbus A330.
  • A safer, more reliable fifth generation fly-by-wire refueling boom that can off load fuel faster than ever before.
  • Primary aircrew control of the aircraft instead of overreliance on computer software which can limit maneuverability in safety and combat emergencies.

Boeing has the experience to build a great airplane and manage a major Air Force contract for the next several decades, and our taxpayers, soldiers, sailors, and airmen should be pleased with the prospect of Boeing’s role in building our badly needed next generation tanker.

Despite Airbus dropping out of the competition to build a fleet of planes they are unqualified for, the controversy continues. Because of pressure from the European Union and their allies in the Pentagon and Capitol Hill, Airbus is considering bidding for the contract they dropped out of. While the military is waiting for the French to decide the Air Force’s future, tens of thousands of American jobs, billions of dollars and our airmen are waiting.

Brigadier General Thomas C. Pinckney (Ret.), a decorated fighter pilot, served in the U.S. Air Force for nearly 30 years.