Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 29, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

TANKERS!....Northrop Grumman and EADS, the parent company of Airbus, have beaten out Boeing for a huge contract to provide aerial tankers to the Air Force. McClatchy reports the reaction:

"I am extremely disappointed in the Air Force's decision to choose Northrup Grumman/EADS over Boeing to make the critical new aerial-refueling tanker. From the beginning, the Air Force vowed to have an open competition process," said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. "I look forward to seeing their justification for this unfortunate outcome. If this decision holds, it will be at the cost of American jobs and American dollars, if not our national security."

Huh. I wonder why Roberts is so bent out of shape. Let's see if the LA Times has anything to say about this:

Boeing, which was considered the odds-on favorite because it built the tankers that are flying today, had planned to assemble its planes, based on its 767 passenger jet, in Everett, Wash., then ship them to Wichita, Kan., to modify them into tankers.

Ah. That explains it. Any other reaction?

In Paris, at the annual air shows, Airbus officials and Southern politicians proudly displayed the proposed European tanker offering and made the argument that if the United States wants to sell its weapons to European countries, it should also open its doors to foreign suppliers.

That's mighty open-minded of those Southern politicians, isn't it? Back to the LA Times:

In recent months, Northrop tried to burnish its bid by proposing to assemble the plane in Alabama [and Mississippi! Don't forget Mississippi! –ed.]. Its initial plans called for the planes to be assembled in France before being shipped to Alabama to undergo tanker modifications.

Gotcha. Nothing new here, of course. Just thought it was worth pointing out that all huffery and puffery from congress critters about this deal should be taken even less seriously than usual. When it comes to military bidding wars, national security is about the last thing on their minds.

Kevin Drum 6:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (84)

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Comments

With the continued problems with the 787, this is really going to hurt Boeing's stock price. It will be a blow to the local economy here and may figure in the potential for a strike by SPEA.

Kind of retarded argument about selling to the foreign markets since Boeing doesn't make a plane that doesn't have subcontracted parts from foreign suppliers.

Posted by: JeffII on February 29, 2008 at 6:36 PM | PERMALINK

Awarding contracts to foreign-based companies leads directly to terrorists under your children's beds.

The only good thing about idiot politicians turning to the terrorism bogeyman so often is that, hopefully, eventually, it will lose all its power. And almost EVERY mention of it will be seen as either ignorance or blatant manipulation.

Posted by: luci on February 29, 2008 at 6:42 PM | PERMALINK

Huh. I wonder why Roberts is so bent out of shape.

Because BMAC employs about 30K in Wichita, a city of around 400K?

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State on February 29, 2008 at 6:42 PM | PERMALINK

I have a style question: how does one "ship" a plane, especially a tanker?

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot on February 29, 2008 at 6:51 PM | PERMALINK

how does one "ship" a plane?

Back in the old wooden Navy, we used to have to plane the ships! But the expense adze up!

Posted by: thersites on February 29, 2008 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

Kev, where are you on the Prince Harry fighting in Afghanistan story...

There are thousands of American women falling all over themselves for the latest "the royalty is great" story promoted by our plutocratic media... but you are nowhere to be found.

Posted by: Swan on February 29, 2008 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

Can we at least get a pic of Harry smiling cutely and wearing a military uniform...

Posted by: Swan on February 29, 2008 at 7:01 PM | PERMALINK

Because BMAC employs about 30K in Wichita, a city of around 400K? Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State

BG, I believe the plane would have been assembled in Seattle. At least that's what the news has been here. I'm not sure many of the crumbs would have fallen in Wichita.

Posted by: on February 29, 2008 at 7:03 PM | PERMALINK

Well then, I stand corrected, and Roberts remains the same towering ass he has always been.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State on February 29, 2008 at 7:09 PM | PERMALINK

The entire bloated Pentagon budget is treated as gravy floating into each congressional district, with the flow carefully regulated to insure that contracts and subcontracts are widely dispersed especially to those in power. It can never be stopped or curtailed, only expanded (which Obama and Clinton have promised to do). And now foreigners want a place at the table too. Pass the gravy!

Posted by: Don Bacon on February 29, 2008 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

All politics is local (like corn ethanol in Iowa). Same old, same old. All good military contractors spread the contracts around, so as to get enough politicians in the pocket.

Posted by: bigTom on February 29, 2008 at 7:23 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe France will support our next invasion.

Posted by: B on February 29, 2008 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK

if it only had been true...
http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-White-House-Plagiarism.html

Posted by: noone on February 29, 2008 at 7:44 PM | PERMALINK

"Well then, I stand corrected, and Roberts remains the same towering ass he has always been."

Read Kevin's post again: "...then ship them to Wichita, Kan., to modify them into tankers."

You were right the first time.

Posted by: PaulB on February 29, 2008 at 7:53 PM | PERMALINK

A few years ago Boeing was trying to lease 767s to the Air Force which circumvented Pentagon rules and I think at least one person went to jail. John McCain was instrumental in exposing this sham which was good for him. I wonder though if some people will hold it against him now that those 767s will never be built.

Posted by: CarlP on February 29, 2008 at 7:53 PM | PERMALINK

Read Kevin's post again: "...then ship them to Wichita, Kan., to modify them into tankers."

You were right the first time. Posted by: PaulB

I see that now. However, it still sucks for the employees of the Everett plant where they would have "begun life."

Posted by: Jeff II on February 29, 2008 at 8:06 PM | PERMALINK

Ha, Kevin, you haven't learned that getting screwed around with by some rich Republicans is what life's all about... I bitch and moan about how the Republicans are so much better for national security, but in the end I know it's all a bunch of bullshit.

Posted by: Republican Thinker on February 29, 2008 at 8:38 PM | PERMALINK

Let's bid out heavy lift aircraft, and award the contract to a European country or China.

Heavy lift aircraft, the last world-commanding US logistic monopoly.

...anyone?

Posted by: anonymous on February 29, 2008 at 8:49 PM | PERMALINK

Northrop Grumman-EADS said the contract would create 25,000 jobs involving 230 suppliers in 49 states.

What a bunch of amateurs - which state got left out?

Boeing claimed its 767 was all-American

Good old red, white and blue Boeing ... well, red and white anyway. The most critical parts of the new 787 (e.g. the wings) are built in Japan.

Hey, why invest in developing new technology like composite wing construction when you can just ship it offshore.

Posted by: alex on February 29, 2008 at 8:49 PM | PERMALINK

http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/0,1518,521138,00.html

Airbus, VW Headed to America

With the dollar as weak as ever, European companies are trying to avoid disaster. Factories in North America are becoming more attractive, and over the weekend, both Airbus and VW hinted they might take the plunge.

Methinks this is a deal made with Sarkozy and the European Central Bank to play along with our interest rate drops by dropping their rates also so as not to create a hyperinflationary environment here in the US by a co-depreciation of the Euro. If they don't play along however, the American taxpayer WILL PAY THROUGH THE NOSE for this deal by paying a lot of inflated dollars to Europe for these tankers to shore up their aerospace industry because of our need to depreciate our dollar to prevent a general financial collapse.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on February 29, 2008 at 9:31 PM | PERMALINK

"I have a style question: how does one "ship" a plane, especially a tanker?"
____________________

I suspect that the aircraft would be assembled in flyable condition, flown to the conversion site, and then converted to tanker configuration.

It is possible to ship a large aircraft in separate, large parts, usually wings, fuselage, and tail. The B-787 components are to be built in Italy and Japan, then flown to Seattle for assemply. I was given a tour of one of the heavily modified B-747s that will be used to ship the components. Pretty cool.

Posted by: trashhauler on February 29, 2008 at 9:37 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin Drum wrote: "When it comes to military bidding wars, national security is about the last thing on their minds."
_____________________

Well, that's a bit unfair. We have to assume they figured that either aircraft would actually do the job. After that, now....

Posted by: trashhauler on February 29, 2008 at 9:42 PM | PERMALINK

We obviously need to sell more aircraft carriers to India.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on February 29, 2008 at 10:02 PM | PERMALINK

trashhauler >"...The B-787 components are to be built in Italy and Japan, then flown to Seattle for assemply...."

Actually the Italian components are flown to South Carolina for some work (stuffing - which is where the big problem was that has delayed "first flight") and then flown to Everett for assembly. The wings come straight from Japan to Everett (which is north of Seattle).

It is going to be interesting to watch the follies unfold over the next few years as this "award" is challenged and fought over. Washington state`s gov has already said there will be a big fight if Boeing didn`t get the contract. I doubt EADS will be ordering any materials for this anytime soon.

Oh, and every plane Boeing builds has some "foreign" (non-American) parts. It is called off-sets & something that Boeing has had to do to sell into those markets. Other aerospace companies do the same thing. Ever heard the phrase "global economy" ?

"The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it." - George Bernard Shaw

Posted by: daCascadian on February 29, 2008 at 10:14 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, BlueGirl, et al:

If Kansas had Democratic Senators, they'd be doing the same "foreign suppliers" griping, while Alabama, if it had Democratic Senators, would be spinning the Northrup side of Northrup/EADS.

Just politics.

NOT "just Republican politics," but "just politics," or "just Congressional politics."

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on February 29, 2008 at 10:34 PM | PERMALINK

daCascadian: every plane Boeing builds has some "foreign" (non-American) parts

Of course, but the 787 is different. Very critical sections, including the wings, are built by the likes of Kawasaki, Mitsubishi and Fuji. For good measure, these are the largest composite pieces ever made for an airliner. Boeing engineers dubbed this approach the open kimono policy.

Boeing isn't really an aircraft manufacturer anymore so much as a mere systems integrator. They've handed out the know how on cutting edge technology to foreign companies that have been pushing to get more involved in the aerospace industry for years.

It is called off-sets & something that Boeing has had to do to sell into those markets.

I understand. Free trade involves foreign governments strong-arming their national airlines into not buying airplanes unless that country gets offsets. That's the free market!

Posted by: alex on February 29, 2008 at 10:36 PM | PERMALINK

Without a doubt.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State on February 29, 2008 at 10:37 PM | PERMALINK

Doc, in a related vein, Sarko's already jawboning the European Central Bank to do something regarding the soaring euro. Pretty soon, it's going to be a currency war, followed by China stopping its series of hikes to the value of the renminbi, or even reversing.

Stagflation, hell. Think back to 1920s Austria, followed by 1920s Germany, for examples of "currency wars."

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on February 29, 2008 at 10:39 PM | PERMALINK

SocraticGadfly: Kevin, BlueGirl, et al: ... NOT "just Republican politics," but "just politics," or "just Congressional politics."

Neither Kevin nor BGRS referred to either party.

Posted by: alex on February 29, 2008 at 10:42 PM | PERMALINK

alex,
The problem is that the value of the offsets often exceeds that of the foreign purchase. Poland is an example with the F-16. It's basically a net out-sourcing of American jobs, conducted by the US government and its embassies abroad. Part of our downward spiral.

Posted by: Don Bacon on February 29, 2008 at 11:11 PM | PERMALINK

The Air Force's budget could be cut 75% and it would have no effect on national security. These massive expenditures are not driven by national security needs.

Posted by: Brojo on February 29, 2008 at 11:14 PM | PERMALINK

Socratic, the Federal reserve is pulling out all the stops to prevent a financial collapse here in the US. The EU has been sandbagging us by keeping their rates high because they don't want their currency to inflate, but they have been shooting themselves in the foot and making our manufacturing base look more attractive to their large companies because of the cheap dollar. If we can get the EU to drop rates along with us, the dollar won't fall as much and our economy won't inflate as much, and their manufacturing base won't get battered as badly.

I just think this deal is a bone thrown to Sarkozy/Merkel, with Grumman making big money on electronics add-ons, southern states benefiting disproportionately to grease the process... all to keep the global financial system from collapse. Also, don't forget that China hasn't experienced a serious recession yet and WILL if WE DO. They are holding a lot of our paper. We don't want the EU to continue to sandbag our currency if China starts dumping their paper.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on February 29, 2008 at 11:22 PM | PERMALINK

NPR reported today that originally this contract was given no-bid to Boeing/Northrup, but after it was revealed that the bid was given after bribes and other assorted corruption, the contract was opened up for bidding. A prevous commenter made mention that the offeding parties served time in jail, 9 months, if I remember my NPR correctly.

Posted by: David Caddock on February 29, 2008 at 11:29 PM | PERMALINK

The Air Force's budget could be cut 75% and it would have no effect on national security. These massive expenditures are not driven by national security needs.
Posted by: Brojo

Tankers are actually useful all the time. Non-glamorous and therefore neglected by the fighter mafia in the USAF, but very essential. They can usually carry cargo too.

Posted by: sjrsm on February 29, 2008 at 11:47 PM | PERMALINK

Regarding the "shipping" of planes:
I used to live in Seattle, and sometimes as I was driving Highway 2 eastbound into the North Cascades for a hike, I would see a whole freakin' fuselage of a jet cruising along next to the highway, being pulled by a train on the Burlington Northern line (former Great Northern) over the Cascades, presumably bound for Kansas. Or maybe it was a section of a fuselage, about the length of a railroad car. And maybe they were going westward toward Everett. Anyway, the main point is that in the Seattle area 10 years ago you could see airplane fuselage parts riding around on railroad cars. Free entertainment!

Posted by: Karl on March 1, 2008 at 12:12 AM | PERMALINK

Regarding the "shipping" of planes:
I used to live in Seattle, and sometimes as I was driving Highway 2 eastbound into the North Cascades for a hike, I would see a whole freakin' fuselage of a jet cruising along next to the highway, being pulled by a train on the Burlington Northern line (former Great Northern) over the Cascades, presumably bound for Kansas. Posted by: Karl

I see that same line from my office window. At least three times a week a freight train passes with 737 fuselages.

Posted by: Jeff II on March 1, 2008 at 12:17 AM | PERMALINK

The Air Force's budget could be cut 75% and it would have no effect on national security. These massive expenditures are not driven by national security needs. Posted by: Brojo

Brojo, I appreciate your position, but it is not merely impractical and untenable, but a vast majority of the country, while recognizing that a Truman Committee and a team of Pentagon auditors would be a good idea, disagrees with your positions strongly.

National security isn't a binary proposition. It is multi-faceted, involving things that at first blush might not seem like they would have any impact. That 75% you pluck out of the air would ripple through the economy. It would not just affect the Air Force, but a whole gaggle of manufacturing jobs as well. Then service and retail jobs are in turn negatively affected by lost manufacturing jobs.

I know it would not hurt your feelings to see Davis-Monthan close the gates, and what I hear, it was a close call with the latest round of BRAC closings. But what effect will it have on the local economy when that day comes? You know what I remember about the community around the base when we were there to deactivate the Titans? Nobody said word one about the ten megaton warheads that had been under the sand south of town for damned near thirty years - they wanted to know if another mission would replace the one that was closing up shop because they were more worried abour the local economy. This was AFTER the accidents at Damascus, Arkansas (where a propellant leak threw a missile out of the silo, ripping off the blast door in the process and threw a missile, intact, into the Arkansas mud) and Rock, Kansas where an oxidizer leak caused the evacuation of the entire town.

Long story short - even with 60 minutes doing stories about the fact that Titans were obsolete to the point they were dangerous, the powers that be in Tucson didn't want us to go any damned where if we weren't going to be replaced.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State on March 1, 2008 at 12:21 AM | PERMALINK

...if the United States wants to sell its weapons to European countries, it should also open its doors to foreign suppliers...

The initial buyers of the Boeing KC-767 were Japan and Italy, who also coincidentally have tier-1 787 suppliers (and who were burned by KC-767 teething problems, especially JP). There's a lot more to this tangle than just "military bidding wars".

Posted by: has407 on March 1, 2008 at 12:58 AM | PERMALINK

Doc, I disagree. The ECB has said for some time it's worried about inflation, and that's why it hasn't cut its discount rate, and I think the worry is genuine. If anybody is doing foot-shooting, it's Big Ben Bernanke with his continual rate cuts.

Alex, no, I know Kevin didn't say that. I took the liberty of pointing out that, just to make sure people recognize this is about Congress and not political parties.

BG, Brojo may overstate the case somewhat, but, does he overstate it that much? I think we could whack 25 percent (assuming fraud, overruns, etc. were addressed much more stringently) without batting an eyelash, and probably whack 50 percent without too much discomfort. Need I quote Ike on the military-industrial complex, which is indeed bipartisan?

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on March 1, 2008 at 1:31 AM | PERMALINK

Schindler and I are like peas in a pod. We're both factory owners, we both made shells for the Nazis. But mine worked, damn it!

Posted by: Montgomery Burns on March 1, 2008 at 1:38 AM | PERMALINK

Having worked on Boeing and Airbus aircraft I can say that Boeing makes a much better aircraft that will last longer than the Airbus [commonly called Scare-Bus] by pilots. I have seen KC-135 aircraft built in 1947 that were still in great shape.

Posted by: Jet on March 1, 2008 at 2:09 AM | PERMALINK

Remember the Airbus not too long after 911 that flew thru the wake of another aircraft and the pilot supposedly over corrected with the rudder and the whole vertical fin, and the engines, departed the fuselage and wings?

Posted by: Jet on March 1, 2008 at 2:14 AM | PERMALINK

Jet -- I'm sure the DoD, not to mention the UK, AUS, SA, UAE, Air Forces would value your objective fact-based analysis of the KC-767 over the 330 MMT.

Since the KC-135, based on the 367-80 frame, with first flight in 1954, with DoD contract for the initial KC-135 let in 1954, and IOC circa 1957, you'd have a very hard time finding one "built in 1947", much less one in "great shape".

Posted by: on March 1, 2008 at 2:53 AM | PERMALINK

you'd have a very hard time finding one "built in 1947", much less one in "great shape".

My bad, I meant 1957. But I stand by my remark that the KZC-135s are in good shape, many have been upgraded with newer, CFM-56, engines and called a KC-135Q which also had two small turbines, located in the cabin, QSAS, Quick Start Air System, to start the four engines quickly. I crawled every inch of that plane and csn tell you they were in good shape, not matter what you read, we replaced every pulley, every cable, every hydraulic cylinder, every flight control was removed and replaced. These planes are in better shape than the newer commercial jet liners you fly on,

BTW I started working on big jets with Braniff in 1987.

Posted by: Jet on March 1, 2008 at 3:11 AM | PERMALINK

I have worked on those [767] and even have training certificates on them , is a better aircraft than a Airbus. But hey, 3-1-08, if your just a passenger, you dont know, respectfully, squat.

Posted by: Jet on March 1, 2008 at 3:18 AM | PERMALINK

The Air Force projects that E and R models have lifetime flying hour limits of 36,000 and 39,000 hours, respectively. According to the Air Force, only a few KC-135s would reach these limits before 2040

Gee is it 2040???

Posted by: Jet on March 1, 2008 at 3:21 AM | PERMALINK

...is a better aircraft than a Airbus...

You also think the 767 would be a better than an A-320 for short-haul service just cuz it's a "better aircraft than a Airbus"? I suppose you also think Ford is preferable to Chevy, regardless of model or intended use?

Get a clue: It depends on the mission. And for this mission, the KC-767 doesn't appear to stack up well against the 330 MMT. You might also ask the JSDF and the Italian Air Force what they think before shooting your mouth off.

Posted by: on March 1, 2008 at 3:37 AM | PERMALINK

Appearances?

Have you ever worked on a large jet 3-1-08?

I can guarantee you that whatever savings or mission options [as if Al Qaeda has an air force] will be screwed by maintenance costs.

Posted by: Jet on March 1, 2008 at 3:56 AM | PERMALINK

767 short haul?

WTF?

The 767 is capable of trans-atlantic flights and a very reliable aircraft. And when I say reliable I mean avionics, electrical systems, hydraulic systems, pneumatic systems.

Posted by: Jet on March 1, 2008 at 4:01 AM | PERMALINK

Boeing’s team failed after a scandal—landing two former executives in jail—and relentless probing from the now likely Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)..

Damnit 3-1-08 politicians are ignorant. Mark my words the Airbus will prove to be a disaster just as McCain is proving to be.

The Northrop Grumman/EADS team’s $1.5-billion win Feb. 29 of the KC-X competition was announced after multiple delays; it includes the manufacture of four developmental aircraft. Five options worth $10.6 billion for the first 64 aircraft are included.

Developmental aircraft? Can you say huge cost overruns? Can you say Osprey?

Posted by: Jet on March 1, 2008 at 4:10 AM | PERMALINK

767 short haul? WTF?

That was sarcasim--or how not to make comparisons between apples and oranges, which you appear to have missed. (NB: Why are 767's not used on short-haul routes? Because as reliable as they may be, they're not cost effective. Get it?)

You really need to learn to differentiate between aircraft, mission, and the ability for any given aircraft to fulfill its mission in the most effective manner. Kinda like differentiating between shit and shinola, only with a bit more thought and rigor.

Posted by: on March 1, 2008 at 4:17 AM | PERMALINK

I have worked on large jets 3-1-08, whereas you havent. 767's arent used for shorthauls because we have 737's and MD-80's and puddle jumpers [ATR, Saab] to do that.

As for mission, the tankers dont fly long haul missions, they are for inflight refueling purposes for long haul fighters, bombers and recon flights. Their mission is simple and subsonic, refuel in air. And as for your projectionism, ha, I have been there and overhauled many aircraft, your 'I need to learn' is quite moot seeing as you have not been there or done that.

Posted by: Jet on March 1, 2008 at 4:27 AM | PERMALINK

Shit and Shinola is exactly what your trying to do, 3-1-08, polish a turd.

Posted by: Jet on March 1, 2008 at 4:29 AM | PERMALINK

Heh.

Posted by: on March 1, 2008 at 4:32 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, 3-1-08 I know your little trick.

HAW!

Posted by: Jet on March 1, 2008 at 4:34 AM | PERMALINK

So the europeans are now potential terrorists who will undermine US security ?? I think Roberts needs to look at the white house if he wants to see how US security has been and is being undermined.

Posted by: rbe1 on March 1, 2008 at 4:59 AM | PERMALINK

Ultra interesting! http://www.spymac.com/details/?2348684

Posted by: Asyralah Scheymos on March 1, 2008 at 6:30 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not a big fan of Airbus - the computer-controlled wonders that occasionally decide to fly themselves into the ground, whose pilots don't trust the fuel gages and, of course, don't dare to use the rudder - but Boeing's spectacular displays of corruption over the 767 tanker "deal" (no deal - we were going to - get this - "rent" the planes, then Boeing would get to resell them later, probably back to us, the taxpayers) - probably has a lot to do with this.

It's going to be interesting to see how this rebounds on the Rethugs, btw, as the rightwing forums are just going ballistic wingnuttia over the deal.

Posted by: Susan on March 1, 2008 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

the powers that be

Corruption by the transfers of wealth to defense contractors is not just practiced in the nation's capital; it takes place in all political jurisdictions. The corruption is so widespread that even local economies are held hostage to its influence. Even though local economies depend on defense care spending, the expenditures do not provide tangible public goods and few tangible public services. Very little spent on the Air Force actually improves the quality of life for any American or has any connection to national security.

American society will sooner or later have to learn to live without these massive wealth transfers for intangible goods and services. Most other countries have, which is why so much of the first world is surpassing the quality of life in America. Those other countries are making wealth transfers to health care, public works, education and tangible goods industries' capital formation to maximize the potential of their economies. America's defense spending is a very poor way to redistribute our economy's wealth and complicates so many other things like foreign policy and reactions to conflict. What is very disconcerting is that many liberals and progressives accept the prevailing attitude that the US needs to spend more than the rest of the entire world on defense care for economic and national security reasons. Politicians have a more difficult time explicitly making this argument to a fearful and machismo electorate, but it is up to the rest of us to challenge the huge opportunity costs of our militant policies.

Posted by: Brojo on March 1, 2008 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

"These [old KC-135] planes are in better shape than the newer commercial jet liners you fly on."
_______________________

The extreme longevity of aircraft built in the 1950s and 1960s is an occasional topic of conversation among military flyers. The B-52 is also scheduled for decades more service, creating the near certainty that some pilot will eventually fly to war in the same aircraft his or her grandfather flew. A few years ago, one factoid given to Congress about the KC-135 went like this: "At the current rate of tanker replacement, the father of the last pilot to be trained in the KC-135 has not yet been born."

One thing not often considered about these old birds is that they were built before the widespread use of computers for aircraft design. When engineers used slipsticks, they tended to overbuild things and they did not dare cut metal to razor-thin tolerances simply to save money.

Posted by: trashhauler on March 1, 2008 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

"America's defense spending is a very poor way to redistribute our economy's wealth."
________________

Of course, the primary purpose of defense spending is not to redistribute wealth. The argument can be made that government itself is not the best vehicle redistributing wealth. Many would argue that isn't the government's job, anyway.

Posted by: trashhauler on March 1, 2008 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

"As for mission, the tankers dont fly long haul missions, they are for inflight refueling purposes for long haul fighters, bombers and recon flights. Their mission is simple and subsonic, refuel in air."
______________________

Tankers have reasonably long range, simply because they carry tremendous amounts of fuel, which they can use themselves, as well as pass to the receivers. I've refueled over mid-Pacific from a tanker whose departure base was hours away.

There's a limit to everything, of course. For most of their service life, the KC-135's primary job was to be ready to refuel the BUFFs on nuclear missions against Russia. Many of the Cold War attack profiles called for the tankers to give all of their fuel load to the bomber, pumping fuel right down to the standpipes. That would leave the KC-135 with just enough fuel to ditch at sea or crashland on the polar ice cap.

Posted by: trashhauler on March 1, 2008 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

The "powers that be" in Tucson were not thinking of it in the grand scheme you are - they were thinking about the cars that Jim Click wouldn't be selling,the groceries Fry's and Lucky's wouldn't be selling, the money that wouldn't be spent at the Broadway Southwest or Mervin's. That is the "powers that be" I was talking about. Not the "star chamber" but the chamber of commerce.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State on March 1, 2008 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

"they were thinking about the cars that Jim Click wouldn't be selling,the groceries Fry's and Lucky's wouldn't be selling, the money that wouldn't be spent at the Broadway Southwest or Mervin's."
_______________________

Setting aside the question of whether it is government's job to redistribute wealth, it is hard to conceive of a better way to do it than to create scores of well-funded, well-paid communities scattered around the country. That's what military bases are - great engines of spending, creating huge demand for goods and services, often in the poorest sections of the states. The same impact drives the inclination to spread the acquisition of major weapons systems all over the country, thereby allowing diverse sections of the country to benefit from the business.

The idea that defense spending does not distribute wealth, because it goes to "defense contractors," is nonsense. Those contractors and subcontractors and sub-subcontractors employ tens of thousands of workers, all paid far more than the equivalent spending on roads, for example, would pay to unskilled road construction crews. Not that both cannot be done at the same time, anyway. Defense spending recycles the capital throughout the economy, which is why countries vie so hard to compete for these contracts.

In addition to wealth distribution through employment, it isn't like the defense industry is owned by an oligarchy of robber barons who remove capital from the economy. Each large company is owned by thousands of stockholders, including pension funds, mutual funds, and other savings plans. Even so, those who fear the evil nature of the "military-industrial complex" can probably take comfort in the fact that the defense industry is a mere shadow of its former self. Many of the former giants of the US defense industry no longer exist, having long since diversified, merged, or simply gone out of business. Neither Northrup nor Grumman has built a military aircraft on its own in a generation, which is why they need the help of EADS - a company which itself would not exist if it weren't for large and direct subsidies from several European governments.

Posted by: trashhauler on March 1, 2008 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

"BTW I started working on big jets with Braniff in 1987."

Would this be the same Braniff that went bankrupt in 1982?

Posted by: carl on March 1, 2008 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

Defense care spending is considered a form of economic welfare by the powers of the state, counties, municipalities, school districts, and chambers of commerce that will benefit from the public spending, enriching themselves and providing for some increased social spending. The belief about the critical need to spend so much money returning so little benefit based on national security as a positive social wealth transfer is very widespread. My larger point is if the money spent was used as a direct social input for tangible public goods and services, not only would it provide many more benefits, it would reduce our readiness and willingness to use military solutions when there are no national security implications or threats.

Posted by: Brojo on March 1, 2008 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

My larger point is if the money spent was used as a direct social input for tangible public goods and services, not only would it provide many more benefits, it would reduce our readiness and willingness to use military solutions when there are no national security implications or threats.
Posted by: Brojo

Here's a thought for you, to fold into your calculus of pluses and minuses. Like it or not, defense and the needs of the military have been the primary drivers of technology in the human race. Aviation, electronics, and computers were all first driven by defense needs. Space systems. So much of medicine. The list is endless. The internet was a DARPA program. I defy you to show me a single social program that has had a similar lasting, positive fallout.

Posted by: sjrsm on March 1, 2008 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

it would reduce our readiness and willingness to use military solutions when there are no national security implications or threats.

And catch us flat-footed when a tangible threat did pop up.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State on March 1, 2008 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder if Jet has worked on planes. He's surprisingly reticent about it.

Posted by: ahem on March 1, 2008 at 6:47 PM | PERMALINK

Having worked on Boeing and Airbus aircraft I can say that Boeing makes a much better aircraft that will last longer than the Airbus [commonly called Scare-Bus] by pilots. Posted by: Jet

Nope. Actually, it's the opposite.

A friend of mine has been a pilot for Frontier for the last five years. Before that, he worked as an engineer and flight trainer for Boeing for about 15 years. He was an inflight tester for the 757, 767, and 777. He spent the next few years after that training pilots on the Boeing's 737 flight simulator. He knows Boeing aircraft inside and out. Frontier flies only Airbus jets. My friends says that he prefers Airbus because, on the whole, their jets are more technologically advanced.

So, I don't think your ground maintenance experience quite stacks up against the experience of a flight engineer and pilot.

Posted by: Jeff II on March 1, 2008 at 9:45 PM | PERMALINK

sjrsm,
Of course when you garner the best scientific and engineering minds in the country and use them for devising new ways of killing people there will be a tangential positive result of benefit to the community that is foisting the results of these military systems on other countries, threatening and killing them. But think of what might have been, if these minds were employed on useful projects. The US might have mass transportation and medical systems which are commonplace in other developed and even semi-developed countries. The US would also have been able to afford modern energy delivery systems and also those social programs which would have given us the "lasting, positive fallout" which you acknowledge is lacking.

Posted by: Don Bacon on March 2, 2008 at 1:49 AM | PERMALINK

"Like it or not, defense and the needs of the military have been the primary drivers of technology in the human race."

Yes and no. Some technology, yes. Other technology? Not so much. Medicine, for example, would be roughly where it is today regardless of the military.

"The list is endless."

Well, no, not really. And the fact that you think it is means that you haven't done your homework and are just spouting what someone else fed you.

In any case, what you have to demonstrate is that these same advances would not have happened had we not spent that much money on military systems, or that military systems are the most efficient mechanism for driving technological development. Good luck with that.

"I defy you to show me a single social program that has had a similar lasting, positive fallout."

Social Security. But in any case, why are you limiting us to "a single social program" when you are not similarly limiting your own argument, even ignoring the fact that it's an apples to oranges comparison no matter how you slice it.

Posted by: PaulB on March 2, 2008 at 2:20 AM | PERMALINK

McCain had a lot to do with this blow to American aerospace. Boeing is headed in Chicago, and I wonder why O-man has not weighed in (perhaps he does not want to dirty his hands). I think there are political angles here.

Posted by: bob h on March 2, 2008 at 8:16 AM | PERMALINK

Yes and no. Some technology, yes. Other technology? Not so much. Medicine, for example, would be roughly where it is today regardless of the military.

Medicine is the most tenuous of my claims, for sure. Geriatric medicine probably hasn't gained so much from combat medicine. But if you look out your window, typically what you'll see is something that got it's start or "boost to orbit" through military needs. Sad but true. Heck, even the interstate highway network is the "Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways".

sjrsm: "I defy you to show me a single social program that has had a similar lasting, positive fallout."

Social Security.

If funding into social security stopped, we would be back to where we were before social security. But if funding for DARPANET stopped...well, I'm pretty sure it has tens of years ago. And yet the internet lives on. That's what I meant by lasting effect.

Posted by: sjrsm on March 2, 2008 at 8:51 AM | PERMALINK

But if you look out your window, typically what you'll see is something that got it's start or "boost to orbit" through military needs. Sad but true.

Isn't this, though, actually an argument for spending less on the military and devoting more of those resources to direct research? It seems a horribly inefficient method to rely on fortuitous side-effects of military spending for technological advances when we could instead cut out the military middleman and spend it directly on areas where research could do the most good.

Posted by: Stefan on March 2, 2008 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

I�m amazed that some people here still believe in the fallacy that defense spending, especially massive amounts of defense spending, lead to technological and social advance. The truth is actually the opposite. You�ll notice that most of most of the state of the art technology that we use everyday had nothing to do with military research and is in fact way ahead of most of the clunky garbage used by the military. Most of it comes from and is developed in other countries in Asia and Europe that don�t waste billions on defense research and contracting. Defense spending and contracting actually helps destroy our industrial and technology base by turning companies into big, dumb, non-competitive semi-government bureaucracies that can�t cut it in the civilian marketplace, and by choking off innovation by sucking up all the money and talent. Imagine how bettor off and more competitive our civilian industry would be if we spent that money instead on education, infrastructure, and health care instead of keeping some old aircraft factory left over from WWII open for another decade.

Posted by: KevinD on March 2, 2008 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't this, though, actually an argument for spending less on the military and devoting more of those resources to direct research? It seems a horribly inefficient method to rely on fortuitous side-effects of military spending for technological advances when we could instead cut out the military middleman and spend it directly on areas where research could do the most good.
Posted by: Stefan

I'm not claiming that the purpose of the military is to generate tech advances that have broad applicability, just pointing out that it does. Just as competition drives natural evolution of species, it seems to drive our tech growth.

I do research for a living, so I'm all for pure and applied research of a general nature.

I�m amazed that some people here still believe in the fallacy that defense spending, especially massive amounts of defense spending, lead to technological and social advance. The truth is actually the opposite.
Posted by: KevinD

Sez who? Citations?

From the description of a book on the topic (visit the site to get the whole thing).

Is War Necessary for Economic Growth?: Military Procurement and Technology Development

In this book, the author focuses on six general-purpose technologies: interchangeable parts and mass production; military and commercial aircraft; nuclear energy and electric power; computers and semiconductors; the INTERNET; and the space industries. In each of these industries, technology development would have occurred more slowly, and in some case much more slowly or not at all, in the absence of military and defense-related procurement.

Posted by: sjrsm on March 2, 2008 at 8:38 PM | PERMALINK

Boeing already has a foothold in China, so it would have been great if Boeing had gotten the contract and manufactured these tankers in China. We would save the taxpayers a lot of money by using Chinese labor, and shipping our jobs to China is another plus for our economy. As we ship our jobs to China, the newly enriched Chinese consumer becomes an ever more attractive potential buyer for our goods, and China is a market of a billion consumers! I learned all this stuff in economics--how free trade is win-win.


I'm Luther Leek and I approve this message.

Posted by: Luther on March 3, 2008 at 1:51 AM | PERMALINK

a tangible threat

That must be why Reagan killed all of those Nicaraguans and Grenadans. Tangible threats are lies used to scare moderates into accepting conservative and defense care corruption. There is very little threat to the national security of the US from any antagonist in the world today.


Posted by: Brojo on March 3, 2008 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

Bullshit. One word for you. Russia. Make it two words. China.

The incidents you mention were shameful and I was not the only person billeted at D-M that supported Sanctuary back then.

Reagan's wars in Central America are a shameful legacy, and I make no excuses for them. But just because something is wrong in one situation doesn't make it wrong in all situations.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State on March 3, 2008 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

Russia's and China's threats are greatly exagerated. Their military capacities are way overblown to justify more defense spending. They have little capacity to threaten US national security and little reason for doing so. Russia could not successfully occupy Afghanistan and China had its ass kicked by Vietnam in a border skirmish not too long ago, but some Americans want to spend trillions of dollars for defense against them. Our nuclear missiles are the only things required to counter their nuclear threats.

The US could reduce its defense spending 75% and still be capable of defending against Russia and China. While the rest of the first world spends this money on the welfare of its citizens, the US spends it on fears generated by the defense contractors and the militarists who benefit from the public spending.

Posted by: Brojo on March 3, 2008 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

Building up a huge standing military for defending against Russia and China allows for its use against non-national security targets based on flimsy, if not outright fabrications of, tangible threats from other antagonists idenitifed by the defense contractors and political demagogues. That is why the US killed millions of Vietnamese, tens of thousands of Iraqis, hundreds, maybe thousands, of Nicaraguans and a few Cubans. With the exception of the Iraqis, those other people were killed by the US in 'defense' against Russian communism. A defense that was unwarranted and made capable by having such a huge standing military and a civilian populace willing to believe the use of such force protected their security. The Iraqis were killed for even less of a national security reason, but we had a military ready for the killing nonetheless.

We may need a military to mantain the nuclear missiles to be used only if attacked in kind, but we do not need a military capable of invading and fighting counterinsurgencies in countries that pose no national security threat.

Posted by: Brojo on March 3, 2008 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

"Sez who? Citations?"

What, are we turning in grad papers here, Professor? Why don’t you read the rest of what I said? Why don’t you take a break from your “research” and get out and look around. Does Apple need massive defense spending to thrive? Does Sony, or Toyota, or Honda? Yea, defense spending and war drove advances in the past, mainly because of necessity, and that’s where the money was. It doesn’t mean it MUST be that way. And as far as a social program besides Social Security (and Medicare) that’s made a lasting difference, there hasn’t been many, because we haven’t evolved to that level as a species to do things simply for the benefit of everyone for its own merits, as opposed to just hoping to kill more Scary Brown People in the next senseless war.
Also, ditto what Brojo and Stefan said, because they are obviously better writers then I.

Posted by: KevinD on March 6, 2008 at 7:17 PM | PERMALINK

Couple facts:
Regarding Wichita, the airplanes themselves were to built in WA then flown to Wichita for intallation of mission equipment, the tanking assembly, booms, etc, and other military specific hardware.
Regarding the original 767 lease deal, the AF was going to lease the aircraft for the same reason you or I might lease a car....they didn't have the money to buy them up front.
Regarding the choice of a larger aircraft, it appears the AF changed their requirements from a pure tanker to a combination tanker and airlifter. Unfortunately they didn't tell Boeing who could just as easily have bid a 777 aircraft, far superior to the Airbus. Clear grounds for a protest IMO. The bad news is this was tried before with the KC-10 tanker/airlifter (a variant of the DC-10 airliners.) As an airlifter it takes forever to onload and offload cargo because of the low wing, no large cargo ramp, and the amount of space a large widebody takes up on the ground really cuts your ability to move things through any airfield. Its also a bad refueler for fighters coming off a mission and trying to get home. They need more tankers with more booms to get their fuel vs all taking turns at one humongous flying gas tank that can only serve a three aircraft at once. Think of your local gas mart with only three pumps, except instead of running out of gas and pushing your car up when its your turn, you bailout of a multi million dollar fighter.
Lou Dobbs on CNN has asked "Who are the idiots running the AF" these days. On the brink of a recession they chose to send billions of dollars to France? Unfortunately, the AF has broadened their menu from pork to truffles.

Posted by: MikeS on March 8, 2008 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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