Friday, May 09, 2008

Aerial tanker dogfight

Ok. I did a bit of light reading on the tanker brouhaha this evening and this is what I learned:

Boeing proposed a tanker based on the 31 year-old 767 airframe instead of the 24 year-old 777 airframe which is technically much more advanced than its older brother. This decision seems to have a lot of people baffled.

EADS' proposed tanker aircraft is based on the A330 airframe which was introduced at about the same time as the 767 but is considered more advanced (for reasons not known by me). Apparently the technical contest was a dead heat.

In favor of EADS award is the fact that there will be a technology transfer of the engineering involved in building the new(-ish) aircraft. Also, the aircraft will be assembled in the United States by Northrop Grumman, although this is a very small part of the overall contract.

A fact that argues against the EADS award is that they have never built a tanker aircraft before. The current USAF tanker fleet is comprised of aircraft based on the Boeing 707 (the KC-135) and McDonnell Douglas (which merged with Boeing in 1997) DC-10 (the KC-10) airframes. So, there is a lot of tanker expertise on the Boeing side of the equation.

Both the 767 and A330 production lines are up and running, so that seems to be a wash (unless you live in Washington State - pun intended).

I think the fact that this intertwines our defense industry with the moribund European one is a big factor. Germany and France in particular, and the EU in general, are making noise about wanting to get more involved militarily around the world. I think this award takes away one of their excuses for not doing so.

Remember, we keep hearing how thin our forces are stretched. If this gives an incentive to the EU to help shoulder some more of the burden, this would seem to argue in favor of the EADS award. That would be a subtext, though, and not technically germane to the competition.

I have a source who works in the defense industry. I wrote him this evening and asked him his opinion but at the time of this writing haven't heard back yet.

In the interest of full disclosure, I recently accepted a position with Northrop Grumman who are the main subcontractor on the EADS team.

No comments: