Cry me a river

Air-tanker plan could hurt fighter project

Naming a specific program after noting last week that buying tankers instead of leasing them might cause cuts in other programs, the Air Force’s top acquisition official says that the F/A-22 fighter program might have to be cut if the compromise plan goes through.

IMHO, that just makes buying the 767 tankers outright look even better.

As noted earlier, the F/A-22 program is budgeted for a certain dollar amount, not for a certain number of planes at a specific price. No matter how many planes we get the total bill is going to be the same. And there’s not an enemy air force in sight. I mentioned earlier today that the biggest threat most of our potential enemies can put into the sky seem to be RPG-7s.

Why the media isn’t all over this tanker debacle is beyond me. I must admit that over the past couple of weeks the number of stories has increased, but this deal almost went through without anyone really noticing.

In related news, Forbes notes a study that questions the nearly (or over) $6 billion deal that Boeing gets to maintain the new tanker fleet. Later, it mentions $6 billion for training and maintenance awarded without a competitive bidding process.

CBO concluded in a recent study that the Air Force was paying two to three times too much for the maintenance contract.

I’m not advocating automatically taking the lowest bid regardless of qualifications, but let’s not just hand out blank checks, either.

Again, I’d like to point out that nearly every story on this deal uses different figures. Not that there might not be a very legitimate reason for the discrepancies, but it certainly gives me the impression that no one is shooting straight on this one.

Also, this is very significant:

Air Force says tanker corrosion not acute

The Air Force disclosed yesterday that components in its refueling tankers have only occasionally been replaced because of age-related corrosion, an issue at the heart of debate about the urgency of replacing the tanker fleet with new aircraft from Boeing.

This is CENTRAL to the debate over new tankers. The argument goes that we cannot afford to wait until there is money in the budget to buy new tankers because the old tankers are suffering from extensive corrosion problems. That is why it makes sense to lease, even though it will cost more than purchasing them outright.

But if we don’t really need new tankers, at least not immediately, the argument falls on its face. John McCain, the leading critic of the lease plan, threatened to subpoena the information when the Air Force wouldn’t release it to him.

McCain said: “The data is very revealing. It clearly indicates (corrosion) is a negligible concern here.”

The Air Force initially told Congress the information supplied yesterday had been destroyed and the people who prepared it were not available, McCain said.

He said some Air Force technicians had told congressional staff they were proud of their ability to keep age-related corrosion in the existing tankers very low, a point at odds with the contentions of top Air Force officials.

(Empahsis mine.) I’ll say it again. If we truly need new tankers, I fully support buying them. If our current tankers were falling out of the sky and our backs were against the wall in this Fourth World War, I’d even support leasing them if it was the only way to get them. But our current tankers are okay, at least for now.

Would it be nice to get new ones? Sure it would. But the big bucks could be far better spent on things like Interceptor Body Armor and other equipment for our guys in the field. Not as “sexy” as a huge new tanker program or a supersonic air supremacy fighter, maybe, but certainly a lot more valuable in our war against terror.