04/14/08 — Congressman doesn't like tanker deal

View Archive

Congressman doesn't like tanker deal

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 14, 2008 1:45 PM

Despite the positive economic impacts on Wayne County, the awarding of a multi-billion dollar contract to the French company Northrop Grumman for a new air refueling tanker has caused at least one of the county's congressional representatives to question the appropriateness of a foreign company supplying vital military components.

Sitting on the House Armed Services Committee, U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-District 3, has voiced his concern not only about the decision's national security implications, but also its broader economic effects.

"With unemployment on the rise and our country rapidly sliding into a recession, how can we justify sending U.S. dollars to a foreign country for our national defense needs?" he wrote in a letter to Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne. "This contract award threatens our national security and U.S. economic security by sending U.S. manufacturing jobs abroad."

In the letter, written in early March, he asked for more information about the contract, as well as any justification the Air Force could offer for its decision.

"I have been very outspoken for 14 years about the fact that we continue to see so many of our jobs going overseas," Jones said. "We've become more dependent on foreign governments for what we used to make ourselves, and this is an example of that."

But, he added, it's even worse when the federal government is directly responsible.

According to his figures, if Boeing had received the contract, 85 percent of the plane would have been built in the United States, as compared to the 58 percent Airbus plans to build in America.

"I know this decision will benefit some companies in America, but when you look at the overall picture...." he said.

And so even with part of his district directly benefiting from the decision, he still thinks it was a mistake.

Wayne County Develop-ment Alliance President Joanna Thompson explained before the contract was awarded, that because AAR is a subcontractor with Airbus, such a decision could mean hundreds more jobs for Wayne County.

"If Northrop Grumman got the contract, it would directly benefit Wayne County," Ms. Thompson said in February before the decision was made. "This is just a projection (by Northrop). But if Northrop Grumman was to get that contract and if AAR was part of that contract, we were told there would be additional job growth."

AAR was already expected to expand to 500 total jobs by 2011. The new contract is expected to mean several hundred more.

"I'm pleased the company in Wayne County will profit from this contract, but I also have to look at the big picture," Jones said.

The bid, which is to replace 179 planes -- the first of three phases to replace all 530 airplanes in the Air Force's current 50-year-old KC-135 fleet, of which the 916th Air Refueling Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base is a part -- came in at $40 billion.

Grumman plans to manufacture the KC-135's replacement, the KC-30, at a new plant in Mobile, Ala.

With demands for review continuing, however, the congressional armed services committees are expected to take a look at the contract before any funds are appropriated.

Jones does not believe, though, that it will be overturned.

"There might be hearings, but I don't think this is going to be reversed," he said.

No statements were released on the issue by U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-District 7, or U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., both of whom sit on their respective armed services committees, and phone calls to both offices were not returned.