The awarding of the air tanker contract to Boeing over European rival EADS has been making headlines lately, with the promise of thousands of jobs for U.S. workers and suppliers. There may be additional heartening employment news in the same sector, following a request by the U.S. Air Force to identify suppliers for a new kind of airplane that can perform the light attack and armed reconnaissance (LAAR) missions that are being requested by our military leaders.
The new aircraft's purpose is to allow our U.S. pilots to more effectively execute the tactics, maneuvers and procedures that are needed for the type of counter insurgency warfare that we are currently seeing in Afghanistan and other conflict zones around the globe. In turn, these American pilots will train their partners and developing nation counterparts to fly these same planes and defend themselves, with a goal of reducing the need for U.S. military presence in the region.
Two companies are vying for the Air Force contract-Hawker Beechcraft, a Kansas-based company, and Embraer, a Brazilian owned and operated company.
Hawker Beechcraft has a long history of providing strategic aircraft to the United States armed forces. It has delivered over 550 T-6 Texan II trainer aircraft to the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy and over 110 to the militaries of many of our allies, including several countries who are likely beneficiaries of the LAAR plane.
With the changing of the mission, Hawker Beechcraft has designed an LAAR aircraft specifically tailored for counter insurgency operations. Hawker Beechcraft's AT-6 is American made and engineered. It is a worthy successor to Hawker Beechcraft's widely popular T-6 Texan II. The U.S. Air Force's extensive experience working together with Hawker Beechcraft should make any expanded use of its products, including the AT-6 relatively simple and safe.
Hawker Beechcraft currently estimates that its proposal will create over 1,400 U.S. jobs in 18 states while Embraer's proposal will create only 50 U.S. jobs.
Following last week's announcement that the tanker contract was going to Boeing, Washington Senator Patty Murray stated, "This decision is a major victory for the American workers, the American aerospace industry and America's military. And it is consistent with the president's own call to 'out-innovate' and 'out-build' the rest of the world." The American born and bred Hawker Beechcraft intends to do just that.
Senator Murray also commented about the possibility of an American company losing the tanker contract to a foreign-born company, "I can't believe our country would make a decision to go with a company based in a foreign country. I won't tolerate it." We feel as though that same common sense notion should apply in the instance of the LAAR program.
Depending on the laws and nature of their current host regime, it can be problematic to grant defense contracts to foreign owned and operated companies. Awarding an integral defense contract to the Brazilian-controlled Embraer is even more worrisome due to a little known clause in the Embraer corporate governance by-laws known as the Brazilian "Golden Share." The Golden Share allows the Brazilian government to maintain direct control and veto rights over the "creation and/or alteration of military programs, whether or not involving the Federative Republic of Brazil" as well as the "interruption of the supply of maintenance and replacement parts for military aircraft."
The Brazilian government's direct control over Embraer would put the production of the light attack and reconnaissance aircraft at the mercy and whim of Brazil's political leaders who too often do not see eye to eye with the United States on foreign policy issues. In fact, they have been noticeably absent from the War on Terror over the last decade. The same War on Terror from which they are now seeking to profit.
Earlier this week I sent a letter to the Department of Defense in which I wrote, "The Brazilian government's direct control over Embraer would put the production of the light attack and reconnaissance aircraft at the mercy and whim of Brazil's political leaders who too often do not see eye to eye with the United States on foreign policy issues." At stake in this debate is not a single defense contract but rather a larger statement of whether the United States is committed to creating high quality, high paying jobs at home or whether we are more interested in placating hostile adversaries economic ambitions.
Given the precarious and ambiguous relationship of the United States and Brazil as well as the stark choice we have been presented we believe the choice is clear; American jobs, American quality for our American defense with no veto power to other nations.
Stephen DeMaura is President of Americans for Job Security a non-profit, non-partisan pro-business issue advocacy organization which promotes issues that strengthen the American economy.