Imagine a bizarre scenario whereby the President of the United States had to ask permission from foreign leaders to use a critical missile-defense system, starting with French president Nicolas Sarkozy and ending, hat in hand, with Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
Until recently, that scenario was fancifully unimaginable. We've long been the global leader in such vital areas as aerospace and defense electronics. Unimaginable, that is, until now.
Indeed, a recent Air Force decision may augur the advent of this kind of alternate reality. By using questionable criteria that disadvantages U.S. manufacturers to unfairly award a huge, militarily critical contract to EADS -- the aerospace giant controlled by France, Germany and Russia -- the Air Force could actually be unwittingly undermining the very industrial base that has defended the U.S., Western Europe, and much of the free world since the end of World War II.
The competition for the $35-billion contract to replace the 1960s-era KC-135 tankers was billed by the news media as a clash of the aerospace titans, a transatlantic dog-fight between U.S. based Boeing on the one hand and Paris-based EADS and its minority American partner Northrop on the other.
Most experts put their money on Boeing; the U.S. firm has produced 2,000 tankers over the past 75 years, while EADS/Airbus has almost no experience producing them. The award to Boeing would have supported 44,000 highly skilled aerospace jobs, many of which could employ returning veterans.
THE AWARD TO EADS/Northrop would outsource most of those jobs to the European Union.
EADS also receives some $100 billion in what the U.S. trade representative alleges are illegal subsidies designed to take market share from Boeing and other U.S. manufacturers.
But even though EADS used $5 billion of these subsidies to finance its tanker airframe, the no-risk funding couldn't make up for the company's complete inexperience in building tanker aircraft: Its KC-30 design is 52 percent larger and 32 percent heavier than Boeing's KC-767, and is far too large to operate out of many critical military bases in Asia.
Compared to Boeing's KC-767, the KC-30 is easier to attack in combat, would occupy more space at military airports, requires extensive facility renovations, provides less flexibility in major military operations, and burns far more fuel.
And according to an independent study, EADS' KC-30 tanker would cost taxpayers some $30 billion in extra fuel costs and at least another $12 billion in new infrastructure upgrades to accommodate its oversize frame.
For the most part, military experts and news organizations have searched for an explanation as to why the Air Force would uncharacteristically tilt the playing field in favor of a foreign contractor with an arguably more expensive, less capable aircraft which is paid for by illegal subsidies.
MOST COMMENTATORS point to the hefty lobbying campaign of EADS and its congressional allies in Alabama -- the one state where EADS will throw a couple thousand jobs for "final assembly."
Indeed, news reports have widely cited the influence of the EADS lobbying campaign, pointing to several mid-course changes in the contract award process that unarguably favored EADS.
For example, the Air Force suddenly discounted the disadvantages of the KC-30s' oversized frame, its higher costs, and its absence of a proven track-record. EADS was also exempted from critical export control laws that will allow EADS to continue its cozy relationships with Iran and Venezuela; EADS may be able to even export technologies to these rogues developed with U.S. taxpayer financing.
But experts now say that by buckling to EADS' backroom dealings, the Air Force could have inadvertently set back the primacy of the U.S. aerospace industry by decades. Ironically, it seems as if the Air Force, perhaps inadvertently, is advancing the very goal of the illegal EU subsidy program that the U.S. trade representative and bipartisan congressional leadership have been fighting.
IT'S NOT JUST that we are exporting manufacturing 44,000 jobs to Europe, whose shores were protected for generations by planes built by American manufacturers; we are outsourcing the most advanced aerospace industry in the world to an EU that has declared war on our industrial base with illegal subsidies and thumb-nosing protectionism in their own government contracts.
If it were a book, it would be titled While the Pentagon Slept .
(The writer is national commander of the American GI Forum of the United States.)