Airbus military concerns

I meant to post this the other day, but a piece in the Wall Street Journal is probably worth looking at: Airbus’s Military Project Misfires. Sorry, but the link is subscription only.

At issue is the A400M, a four-engine turboprop military transport and tanker, and things aren’t going terribly well:

When Airbus started work on the A400M almost a decade ago, it promised to apply its expertise in handling the cost-obsessed customers and brutal competition of commercial aviation to the world of defense procurement. Instead, Airbus stumbled on problems that have long dogged military contractors: politics, technology and weak project management.

The A400M is Europe’s bid to create an all-purpose airlifter that countries around the world badly need. The four-engine propeller plane, which can carry troops, equipment or humanitarian aid, fills a big gap between two existing U.S. planes: Lockheed Martin Corp.’s smaller C-130 and Boeing Co.’s much larger, jet-powered C-17. Goldman Sachs estimated in a research report in September that the A400M could grab around one-third of the market for military-transport planes over the next 20 years, translating into orders for some 500 planes valued at as much as $60 billion.

But Airbus’s expertise in commercial jets wasn’t so easy to transfer to defense contracting, Mr. Ring conceded. “The logic was wrong,” he said, because the engines and military systems “were more complex than expected.”

The numbers on the plane look good, but like most military systems, particularly those adapted from commercial platforms, making those numbers work in the real world has been a struggle.

An especially thorny issue has been the engines for the plane. Initially, an engine based on an existing Pratt & Whitney design was planned, but when some European customers said they’d only buy the A400M if it used a European engine the decision was made to use a totally new design, the TP400 by Europrop.

When the first test flights of the A400M are made this summer, the engine probably won’t be certified.

Military programs, usually worth bazillions of dollars, are always caught up in this sort of thing. It’s not good, and it sure would be nice if a couple of head-busters would make a major effort to clean things up a bit, but it’s not unusual at all. Sadly.

This is all worth pointing out, though, because the US Air Force is shortly going to be deciding on a new tanker, and the two competitors are the KC-767 by Boeing and the KC-30 by EADS, of which Airbus is a major part. A major argument being made against the Boeing planes is that Boeing has a sordid history when it comes to this program and that they’ve had a lot of issues getting their plane, based on the 767 commercial airliner, to perform up to design specs.

Looking at Airbus’s issues with the A400M should help illustrate that Boeing isn’t the only one with this sort of problem. Boeing isn’t the only supplier who exists withing a broken military procurement system. Does this clear Boeing to do whatever it wants to do? Of course it doesn’t. But I’ve said before that, all things being equal (or even close to equal), going with Boeing is probably a better decision. As a taxpayer, I’m certainly willing to pay a little more for a Boeing, though I am not unaware of the fact that the “Buy American” argument has lost a lot of power in this age of globalization and internationalization and free trade. Plus, as I pointed out last week, EADS promises to do much of the KC-30 work in the US if their plane is chosen.

If the KC-30 is truly the better plane and the better deal, then it’s the right choice. But don’t choose it simply because Boeing has issues while conveniently ignoring the fact that Airbus has issues of its own. And, even in this age of globalization, don’t forget that it’s a questionable practice (at best) to outsource your defense work. Blackfive asked Can We Risk Allowing Airbus to Build our Air Fleets? a couple of days back.

It may surprise some to learn just how vital our fleet of tankers is. In today’s war, in fact, we are far more dependent upon our tankers than on our jet fighters. Even in a “big war” scenario, the F-types are going to need the flying gas stations to get to and stay in the fight. Unglamorous they may be, but they are crucial to our military.

May the best plane win.

Comments

  1. The A400M was the catalyst that prompted Lockheed to fund the C-130 upgrades that resulted in the J model. It was based on the C-130X proposal they made to the USAF’s tactical airlift command, but the whole idea (as far as the Air Force was concerned) disappeared when TAC was combined with the strategic airlift command. The launch of the J program with England as the pilot customer threw a big monkey wrench into the A400M program, which nearly disappeared for several years in the late 90’s. One of the good outcomes of the A400M for Lockheed could be the opportunity to build a twin engine variant of the C-130 with the TP400 engines. It would further reduce operating costs over the J model improvements and get rid of some of the stall issues the current J with the A2100 engines has. As for the wonders of globalization, how many of those ‘highly skilled’ engineering jobs will come with that Airbus offer to assemble jets here? That was the promise of globalization, right? We’d get the highly skilled jobs and ship the basic jobs like assembly overseas. How’s that working out for ya’?

  2. The A400M was the catalyst that prompted Lockheed to fund the C-130 upgrades that resulted in the J model. It was based on the C-130X proposal they made to the USAF’s tactical airlift command, but the whole idea (as far as the Air Force was concerned) disappeared when TAC was combined with the strategic airlift command. The launch of the J program with England as the pilot customer threw a big monkey wrench into the A400M program, which nearly disappeared for several years in the late 90’s. One of the good outcomes of the A400M for Lockheed could be the opportunity to build a twin engine variant of the C-130 with the TP400 engines. It would further reduce operating costs over the J model improvements and get rid of some of the stall issues the current J with the A2100 engines has. As for the wonders of globalization, how many of those ‘highly skilled’ engineering jobs will come with that Airbus offer to assemble jets here? That was the promise of globalization, right? We’d get the highly skilled jobs and ship the basic jobs like assembly overseas. How’s that working out for ya’?

  3. > how many of those ‘highly skilled’ engineering jobs will come with that Airbus offer to assemble jets here? quite a few GE (Ohio) – engines (which requires the most highly skilled labor of anything on the plane) Sargent Fletcher (California) – wing pods and drogues Honeywell (California) – radio management system, mission avionics suite and mechanical systems Smiths Aerospace (Michigan) – flight management system AAR Cargo Systems (Michigan) – cargo loading system Telephonics (New York) – intercommunication system Northrop Grumman – systems integration

  4. Yeah, spoken like someone who regularly asks, ‘do you want fries with that?’ The GE engines were designed by GE long ago based on technology pioneered and paid for by the US taxpayer for the C-5 Galaxy, and hung on the A330 by French engineers years ago too. It doesn’t take an American engineer to reinvent the process. In fact, almost any jet engine mechanic at a major airport could do it. There won’t be any refuling pods on the civilian jet. The rest of your list is all suppliers who have already done their part for the A330. It makes absolutely no difference to any of them where Airbus assembles that jet, just like it doesn’t make any difference to me, because I design airplanes, I don’t drive rivits. Not that there’s anything wrong with that job (other than the obvious hazard to one’s ears), but it’s one more example of the lie of ‘free trade’.

  5. > The GE engines were designed by GE long ago So what, who do you think actually builds the engines? Highly skilled American labor, that’s who. > There won’t be any refuling pods on the civilian jet ??? yes, the civilian A330 doesn’t have refuelling pods but the miliary KC-30 most definitely does and it is the military KC-30 we are talking about, no? > The rest of your list is all suppliers who have already done their part for the A330. no, it’s a list of suppliers who will get money if the KC-30 is ordered there is practically no brand new systems in either the KC-767 or KC-30 proposals so i have no idea what you’re arguing about. They’re both using well-proven designs for just about everything except for the boom itself. Most of the design work is simply in the integration. the question is: if the KC-30 is selected, where will the money go. Yes, some will go to France, some will go to England (wings), but well over half of it will stay in the US

  6. When I referred to assembling jets, I was referring to Murdoc’s earlier post regarding Airbus’ offer to assemble A330s here as part of the proposal to win the tanker. When referring to the conversion of these jets to tankers, you are correct, there will be a significant engineering effort involved. Even at that, there will be many more engineering jobs created here by a Boeing win than by an Airbus win. Even if they were able to manipulate the accounting so that both proposals resulted in equal amounts of money being spent in the US, there would be more engineering done here if the US company wins. That should be no surprise. All the engineering drawings are in France. All the engineers who currently support the A330 are French. Those will be the people primarily responsible for the modifications. As for the GE engines, I read recently that they were having to get an ITAR waiver for the CF-6s that were being installed on the C-5M because so many of the parts and materials were coming from foreign countries. Speaking of the C-5, I have also heard that those C-5M CF-6 engines share a common controller with the GE-90s. Those may have been the engines on the British Airways 777 that crashed in England, what was it, yesterday or the day before? Up until now, it was only on Airbus airplanes that you push the throttles forward and get no additional thrust. Apparently that’s what happened to cause the 777 to land short. That’s got to be a concern for any airplane flying with GE-90s or CF-6s with GE-90 computer controlls. I bet those pilots had their hands full trying to essentially dead stick a huge airplane from 2 miles out. At least they had hydraulics and electrical power. Did you see any of the pictures? The main struts were punched up through the wings. That’s a Navy landing for sure.

  7. FYI they were Rolls Royce engines on the 777.

    The jet was equipped with two Trent 895 engines, manufactured by Rolls-Royce. irtusk says:

    > All the engineering drawings are in France. All the engineers who currently support the A330 are French. what do you think Northrop Grumman is doing in this whole project? twiddling their thumbs? they will be doing a significant amount of the engineering work but in the big picture, the amount of money going to engineering is MINISCULE compared to the money going to manufacturing. you are arguing about possibly the smallest piece of the pie neither design features ground-breaking engineering, it’s mostly integration work. which is important . . . but still you’re probably looking at less than 2% of the total cost of this project.

  8. Yeah, Northrup Grumman is a real power in aviation today. Look at all the jets they make. There’s the, uh, let see, it will come to me. Oh yeah, they don’t build jets any more. They build parts of jets for companies like Boeing and Airbus. Whoo Hoo. And yes, you’re right, most of the money will be in manufacturing in this project. Those are the LOW SKILLED jobs that we’ll get. Good to see you finally get it. ‘Free trade’ is a lie. It’s not free. It is not smart. It is trading good, high skilled jobs, for low paying, low skilled 3rd world jobs, while the 3rd world countries take our high skilled jobs. Anyone stupid enough to think that’s a win is stupid enough to deserve to get screwed. Enjoy!!!

  9. > Yeah, Northrup Grumman is a real power in aviation today. Look at all the jets they make. There’s the, uh, let see, it will come to me. Oh yeah, they don’t build jets any more. They build parts of jets for companies like Boeing and Airbus. Whoo Hoo. your ignorance is so stunning that you must be a troll > And yes, you’re right, most of the money will be in manufacturing in this project. right, since practically no money is going to engineering, wth are you complaining about all the engineering going to france there are no engineering jobs leaving for france because there are no engineering jobs resulting from this project no matter who wins (relatively speaking) lets see if you can follow this logic: 1. no new engineering work is created thus 2. no engineering work can be stolen by france because there is none to be stolen thus 3. your complaint is nonsensical and paranoid (before anyone else gets excited, yes there will be a ‘lot’ of engineering work, but it is such a small part of the contract that it doesn’t really matter) perhaps you’re confused and think i’m defending the assembly plant in mobile specifically? to me it doesn’t matter, even if the final assembly is done in france (low-skilled work according to you anyways), enough of the components that they assemble come from america

  10. Yeah, there’s only about 2 or 3 billion dollars in engineering development at stake on this tanker program. Hardly enough to be worth talking about. And the fact of the matter is, most of it will either go to American engineers if Boeing wins or French engineers if Airbus wins. Is that so very hard to understand? Since these are existing airplane platforms, most of what will be spent on these tankers is recurring, non-development costs. Those will be split with most of it going to the higher skilled generation of parts, parts which need to be machined or formed over machined templates, and less of it to assembly. Of the the two jobs catagories, the only catagory that Airbus will be sending to the US is assembly. Boeing has already outsourced most of their parts generation too, much like our automotive plants have, so there’s not much difference there. None the less, the fact remains that all we will get out of an Airbus win is assembly jobs. We will get more engineering jobs out of a Boeing win, but (thanks again to ‘free trade’) there will be few high skilled labor jobs created here either way. I don’t know which part of this is so difficult to understand. The lie remains, we were promised ‘free trade’ would give us more high skilled jobs. In reality it has taken away these jobs. Good job you useful idiots and commie sympathizers. You really pulled the wool over the eyes of the US voter.

  11. > there’s only about 2 or 3 billion dollars in engineering development at stake on this tanker program. more like 400-800 million (1-2% of 40 billion) and of that, NG will get a substantial chunk, your misinformed dismissal of them notwithstanding > thanks again to ‘free trade’ free trade has nothing to do with this if you want the military to have the best (rafael pods, chobham armor, RR lift fans, etc), you have to allow consideration of foreign products anything less would simply be shortchanging the men and women in uniform

  12. $400 to $800 million to develop a fly by wire boom and boomer station, plus add drogue pods, internal tanks, pumps and plumbing, along with the necessary military compatable avionics to a commercial airplane to make it a tanker? Yeah, right. That might be what they said it would take, but we know that number never goes up by double or triple. Nooo. That never happens. Northup Grumman will get a substantial amount, as a money pass through. They will skim the cream off the top and never do any engineering. Why would they? They bring nothing to the table, except their ‘American’ name that they clearly don’t mind whoring. I like the way you wrap yourself in the flag as you stab our military in the back. Nice touch. We hire companies like Blackwater to replace American soldiers and Airbus to replace American suppliers. Who invented the aerial boom tanker, dimwit? Uh, that would be Boeing. How does it ensure we get the best equipment if we buy all our equipment from overseas suppliers? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Do you really think they sell us the best and keep second or third best for themselves? Duh. There is only one way to make sure we get the best, and that is to keep our domestic industry in good condition. Anything else means we get second best. Outsourcing is the industry’s answer to the impending retirement of their workforce, just like uncontrolled immigration is their answer to the impending retirement of the rest of the baby boomers. This is an excerpt from a recent article:

    Roughly a quarter of the nation’s 637,000 aerospace workers could be eligible for retirement this year, raising fears that America may be facing a serious skills shortage in the factories that churn out commercial and military aircraft. ‘It’s a looming issue that’s getting more serious year by year,’ says Marion Blakey, president and chief executive of the Aerospace Industries Association. ‘These are real veterans. It’s a hard work force to replace.’ The AIA, which represents aircraft manufacturers and suppliers, has designated the potential skills drain as one of its top 10 priorities in this year’s presidential race. And one of the major unions that represent aerospace workers is also aggressively embracing the issue in a rare alliance between labor and management. ‘It’s not a problem that’s coming,’ says Frank Larkin, spokesman for the 720,000-member International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. ‘It’s here.’ – Star Telegram

    Of course, none of the big aerospace companies can keep a college grad for more than a couple of years. 80% leave after two years already burned out. These suck holes will do anything but pay us more or let us do the jobs we are capable of doing. But what they hell, if no one else cares, why should I? Don’t do anything. Don’t complain. You’ll get exactly what you deserve. You’re already getting a good bit of it. If you’re stupid enough to take that screwing, you’re stupid enough to take more.

  13. > They [NG} bring nothing to the table, except their ‘American’ name that they clearly don’t mind whoring. your ignorance continues to amaze > Who invented the aerial boom tanker, dimwit? who invented the airplane? The Wright Brothers how is that relevant to this discussion? it isn’t > There is only one way to make sure we get the best, and that is to keep our domestic industry in good condition. Anything else means we get second best. no, the way to ensure we get the best is to hold a fair and open competition where the best can be selected on its merits > Roughly a quarter of the nation’s 637,000 aerospace workers could be eligible for retirement this year, raising fears that America may be facing a serious skills shortage in the factories that churn out commercial and military aircraft. but wait! didn’t you just say that factory work was unskilled menial labor that didn’t count? why are you so concerned about machinists now? > Outsourcing is the industry’s answer to the impending retirement of their workforce which is a different issue for a different day and really has nothing to do with whether to select Boeing or EADS > Of course, none of the big aerospace companies can keep a college grad for more than a couple of years. 80% leave after two years already burned out. These suck holes will do anything but pay us more or let us do the jobs we are capable of doing. wait, I’m confused, this almost sounds like an anti-Boeing screed if you’re so upset about the way Boeing is outsourcing all their work, why do you want to reward them with the tanker contract? > Do you really think they sell us the best and keep second or third best for themselves? 1. it doesn’t work like that 2. if some foreign company’s 2nd or 3rd best can beat out an american company’s best, then the american company deserves to lose > How does it ensure we get the best equipment if we buy all our equipment from overseas suppliers? since you seem to lack in reading comprehension, let me repeat myself >> if you want the military to have the best . . . you have to ALLOW CONSIDERATION of foreign products nowhere did i say buy ALL equipment overseas all i’m saying is you can’t arbitrarily exclude vendors and expect to always end up with the best equipment

  14. I guess I’m just not ‘nuanced’ enough to keep up with the likes of you. At least I can understand the motivation of the aerospace companies. They are trying, and succeeding at maximizing their profitability while minimizing risk. There’s nothing wrong with that unless you’re a frustrated defense worker like me. What I don’t understand is you people. We screw you over and you just can’t get enough. We invent all new ways to screw you over and you even seem to enjoy that. Maybe the liberals are right. Maybe Rush Limbaugh’s broadcast actually does contain some sort of evil mind control signal. I mean, hell, don’t you ever stop to think about what these people are doing to you? Does it not piss you off even a little? Amazing.

  15. so just to be clear, your entire argument about free trade and outsourcing is an attack on Boeing and has nothing to do with who wins the tanker contract nevertheless, here is a thought for you: if foreign workers can do the job cheaper, domestic workers need to cut costs to remain competitive one major step in that direction would de-unionization interestingly enough, EADS is looking to Alabama (a right-to-work state) to build a new assembly plant presumably one of their goals was minimizing labor costs. They can pay a ‘good’ wage (for Alabama) and still pay less than they would the average french (or seattle) worker perhaps this is just what is need to start the reshaping and revitalization of the american aviation industry? Honda builds cars in KY, BMW in SC, and they have aren’t encumbered by massive labor and pension costs like the Big 3 (or is it 2.5 now?) By creating a base of industry in Alabama, they are attracting support companies that will make the area even more enticing for other aerospace companies . . . like Boeing. of course maybe it won’t work out, but maybe it will, just point out that it isn’t all doom and gloom

  16. An attack on Boeing? I support Boeing. Boeing is acting in its own best interest. The only one not acting in their own best interest here is the idiot US taxpayer. It is not in the US taxpayer’s best interest to pump billions of dollars into Europe’s defense industry for obvious reasons. Europe’s defense industry is not going to come to our aid when the chips are down, just like they didn’t come to the aid of the South in the Civil war. They wanted cash on the barrel for those guns and when the South couldn’t pay, they lost. Do you think the European arms manufacturers shed a tear for the South? Even if we were all so foolish as to want to cut off our noses to spite our faces, unions have done nothing so horrible that sending our hard earned tax dollars overseas is going to cure. This so called ‘free trade’ has cost us our soveriegnty by subjegating us to the unelected and unaccountable WTO and NAFTA, it has cost us our economic stability and leadership, it has cost us our industrial might which is what we used to win every major war we have engaged in. It is causing our monitary values to destabilize and crash. How can your hatred of unions justify that? What have unions done to you that makes that reasonable? Was it when they kept kids from working in factories or established 40 hour work weeks, or do you simply hate the middle class that much?

  17. > Europe’s defense industry is not going to come to our aid when the chips are down, just like they didn’t come to the aid of the South in the Civil war. They wanted cash on the barrel for those guns and when the South couldn’t pay, they lost. wow, going way, way off-topic here actually England offered the CSA a huge loan and Jefferson Davis declined, which was a collossal strategic mistake, as that would have given England a strong stake in seeing the CSA survive as it was, once Lincoln (successfully) recast the Civil War as a fight over slavery, England got cold feet as they didn’t support slavery either > This so called ‘free trade’ has cost us our soveriegnty by subjegating us to the unelected and unaccountable WTO and NAFTA i’m not here to argue NAFTA or the WTO, neither is particular relevant to the tanker case (some in Congress tried to tie it to a WTO case, but cooler heads prevailed) > How can your hatred of unions justify that? What have unions done to you that makes that reasonable? Was it when they kept kids from working in factories or established 40 hour work weeks, or do you simply hate the middle class that much? i don’t hate unions, but times have changed. Kids are not allowed to work in factories, whether unionized or not, because that’s the LAW. When GM has to pay a salary to thousands in a ‘jobs bank’ to sit around and do nothing, you have to wonder if perhaps some unions have outlived their usefulness

  18. I would believe unions are unnecessary if I’d seen any evidence to support that theory. What I have seen is places like Michigan that at the height of the unions had one of the highest standards of living on Earth, and with their decline has become a cesspool. I watch as US companies outsource their labor to countries like communist red China that keep their currency values artificially low by pegging them against the dollar. These companies have no conscience at all when it comes to supporting a communist enemy of the US, nor does it bother them that their products are being made by child or slave labor in deplorable conditions. It does not bother them that the factories they contract with pollute the environment or create toxic products such as the lead painted toys we heard about so much before Christmas this year. Yeah, these are companies with a conscience all right. They all feel really bad about getting caught. Now I’d agree that unions need reform. I think they’ve devolved into organizations that protect the useless instead of doing as they should and advocating the interests of the good worker. I’ve seen many times union members sleeping on the job out on the manufacturing floor while others worked busily around them. They did it because they could. Because the union would protect them. Every time I’ve seen that I’ve thought how ironic it is that the union chooses to protect that person and yet is doing nothing for the good people around them who have to pick up that person’s load. That needs to change, but I’m not going to throw out everything this country stands for to make that change. It amazes me how every time my company out sources another capability they tout it to our government customer as, ‘this is going to save you money.’ Not once has there been any evidence at all that it has saved the government a dime. Quite the contrary, the cost of our programs has soared. Outsourcing has caused huge integration problems. As I understand it from a friend who would know, the failure of the F-22 avionics system as the airplanes flew to Japan last year was due to outsourced software. Each module worked just fine alone, but together they crashed in such a way that had these aircraft not been flying near a tanker, they could have easily been lost. Even still, every time we tell the government we’re saving them money by outsourcing to non-union companies they get all giddy. Like, oh yeah, it wasn’t us screwing you, it was those bad old unions. Idiots! And it doesn’t matter how many times we tell them that lie they always believe it simply because it is the lie they want to hear.