Especially since the start of the Cold War, and even before then in many cases, America’s military has been hobbled by Congressional oversight, not only in the business of HOW to defend the nation, but also in the equipment to be used to do so.
Congress, and many American defense companies, have been trying to direct the American military to buy equipment that, while it may not be the better choice in the long run and just might hobble deployments immediately, will keep American assembly lines and American businesses in the business of making poor choice products.
Most recently in the long line of defense contracts, the U.S. Air Force has been trying to replace the venerable KC-135 Stratotanker. The last airframe was built and delivered in 1965. While the Air Force has publicly stated that many of the later model tankers are only through about a third of the projected forty thousand flying hours, the costs of maintaining and re-building the airframes is skyrocketing.
Since 2002, three separate efforts have occurred to replace the tanker. In 2002, the Air Force tried to lease from the Boeing company 100 tankers to be based off of the 767 airframe. This bid failed due to a congressional outcry of corruption about the fact that a former procurement officer that had hands in the deal moved to Boeing shortly after the deal was struck.
Nearly immediately after that, the USAF opened up a new bidding under the KC-X name. Boeing re-submitted the KC-767 for evaluation, and Northrop Grumman, wanting to partner with European Aeronautic Defense and Space, brought a proposal of using a variant of the Airbus A330, internally designated KC-30.
In February of 2008, the USAF selected the Northrop Grumman/EADS entry as the new tanker. In March, Boeing filed a protest with the Government Accountably Office. During the investigation, many Senators and Representatives shouted at the top their lungs their support for Boeing.
Many claimed that selecting Boeing would keep tanker-related jobs in the U.S., never mind the fact that Northrop Grumman/EADS would be building two new manufacturing centers in Mobile, Alabama, and that all of the maintenance would be performed by American workers. The GAO upheld the complaint and the bidding process was canceled.
More recently, the USAF put out a bid for the next VC-25, colloquially known as “Air Force One.” Northrop Grumman/EADS did not even bother putting in a bid, leaving Boeing as the sole bidder. Many have speculated the reasoning behind this is that Northrop Grumman/EADS did not want to have a protracted fight with Congress about the thought of the American President not flying aboard a purely American aircraft.
The biggest question that must be put forth is, “Must the American military buy American?” My response is no. The fact that American Boeing has a near monopoly on Air Force contracts only allows for complacency in the marketplace and forgoes the entire thought process of capitalism by not allowing these other companies to submit their bids and force American companies like Boeing to step up their game against the world.
Competition only brings about better products for less money. Right now, the near monopoly of Boeing contracts can only fail for the military and force America’s global influence to wither and die.