Yesterday, the Pentagon announced it has chosen a bid from Northrop Grumman and the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, which is based in France, instead of the KC-767 Advanced Tanker from Boeing, which is based in Chicago. One man, Hershel “Woody” Williams, thinks it was a terrible decision, and I agree.
Williams, West Virginia’s only living Medal of Honor recipient, used a letter to the secretary of the Air Force to express his great disappointment at the Defense Department’s decision to choose a European company instead of the Boeing Company for a contract to build the next generation of Air Force tankers. In his letter (see this news release) following the DoD announcement, Williams wrote:
“As a Marine who served on Iwo Jima during World War II, it boils my blood every time I see an American flag labeled ‘Made in China.’ So I am even more dismayed that the Pentagon has chosen a foreign company to make military planes over a good American company.”
A contract with Boeing, to replace more than 500 KC-135 aerial refueling tankers that are more than 45 years old, would have supported more than 44,000 U.S. jobs with 300 suppliers in more than 40 states, including St. Louis where Boeing has a large presence.
So why do I agree with Williams? Because I trust Boeing employees — including many friends and neighbors — far more than I trust any individual, corporate or government interests in France or the European Union.
My ties to Boeing began as an Air Force second lieutenant stationed at McConnell AFB in Wichita, Kan. There, I was assigned to the 384th Air Refueling Wing — then the host organization at the base — during a time when the Air Force was conducting in-the-field operational testing of the KC-135R Stratotanker.
As a public affairs officer/media spokesperson, I became intimately familiar with the aircraft during almost two years spent at the base during the latter half of the ’80s. That “intimacy” included becoming a subject-matter expert about the aircraft and sharing that knowledge with members of the mainstream media, defense industry media and others on orientation flights. Such flights enabled them to see firsthand how well the refurbished and re-engined aircraft performed its mission of extending globally the reach of U.S. air power and influence.
Should a decision about an aircraft vital to this nation’s future be based solely upon familiarity? Of course not. Instead, it should be based upon track records and loyalty.
When it comes to track records, which European country has caved under pressure most frequently during the past 100 years? France. So, what will our backup plan be if, God forbid, our relations with France — or the European Union as a whole — go sour and we lose our ability to, for instance, obtain replacement parts for this aircraft in a timely manner?
The answer to that question should weigh heavily in this decision and should prompt Congress to revisit and reverse this decision immediately.