By William Hawkins
The Washington Times
March 16, 2008
The legacy of the draconian cuts in military force levels and procurement during the 1990s continues to cast a pall over U.S. national security planning. That American soldiers and Marines have been overstretched by repeated deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan is well-known, and steps are being taken to expand their strength.
It is not just the combat forces, however, but the defense industry upon which they depend for arms and equipment, that also needs to be reconstituted.
The “procurement holiday” of the Clinton administration cost the defense industrial base a million jobs. The Pentagon promoted a consolidation of firms and elimination of “excess” capacity. This reform was supposed to improve efficiency but it also reduced domestic competition. Now, to stimulate competition, or even just access sufficient capacity, foreign firms are invited to supply U.S. forces with hardware.
The most recent example is the awarding of a $35 billion U.S. Air Force contract for 179 new KC-45A aerial refueling tankers based on the Airbus A330 airliner built by European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS). Boeing has built every previous USAF tanker and has won contracts for its KC-767 tankers from Japan and Italy. But it lost the military competition at home to the foreign firm that is also its main global rival in the commercial airliner sector.
The USAF contract comes at a critical time for EADS. Its A380 “superjumbo” airline project is well behind schedule, and there have been problems in the Airbus A350 midsized airliner project (crucial to its future battles with Boeing), and in its A400M military airlifter.
EADS is Europe’s largest defense contractor yet is much smaller than Boeing because Europe went on an even deeper disarmament slide after the Cold War and has done little to reverse course.
The once-mighty NATO armies deployed to stop a Soviet blitzkrieg across Germany have melted away to where they can hardly maintain a few brigades in Afghanistan to fight lightly armed insurgents. European firms are desperate for American taxpayers to bail them out with military contracts. .
The question is: Can the United States depend on a steady supply of production, including decades of space parts and upgrades, from foreign industries in decline — and where military investment and research are funded at only a fraction of what America devotes to defense?
Read the rest: