An A400M solution: Swap American transports for French tankers?

Bloomberg columnist Celestine Bohlen this morning proposes a radical solution to the “A400M nightmare”: Have Europe agree to dump the troubled airlifter and buy US-made C-17s and C-130Js. In exchange, somehow force the US Air Force to agree to buy an all-Airbus tanker fleet (presumably without competition)! The Paris-based Bohlen writes:


There may be a solution: If the Europeans swallow theirpride, and buy American military-transport planes, then maybethe U.S. Air Force could stifle its own protectionist urges andaward a much-disputed $40 billion contract for aerial-refuelingtankers to EADS and its U.S. partner, Northrop Grumman Corp.

The Europeans have a refueling tanker — the A330-200 –which is already up and flying. The Americans have well-testedmilitary-transport planes. Why reinvent the wheel when there isone already on the shelf?

Surely, burden sharing is what the trans-Atlantic allianceis all about. Why should the U.S. and Europe be duking it outfor orders when in another 20 years, they will both be desperateto save their defense industries from being cannibalized byChina and India?

Where does one begin?

To think about the political, economic and industrial consequences of a simple transatlantic, transports-for-tankers swap is like considering the riddles of quantum theory.

It is interesting for a moment to consider whether Boeing might accept giving up its monopoly on USAF tankers in return for splitting the market for global airlift between the C-17 and C-130J. But that moment passes quickly. The USAF needs hundreds of tankers, and the world probably needs only dozens of new C-17s. Meanwhile, Airbus trades a deeply troubled program for a production bonanza and an industrial foothold in their competitor’s backyard. How do you think that arrangement goes over with the US Congress?

My advice: Avoid taking advice from Bloomberg columnists.

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8 Responses to An A400M solution: Swap American transports for French tankers?

  1. Mike 7 July, 2009 at 2:42 pm #

    I think you’ve got that analysis about right. On the other hand, I think the Europeans are going to end up buying hundreds of F-35′s. So maybe we can work something out.

  2. Jimmy 7 July, 2009 at 3:02 pm #

    well, if we can make Europe buy 300+ C-17s, then we can probably take the tanker in exchange. :)

    But more seriously, maybe Boeing should offer a KC-17, with a boom, too. That’ll fix both the tanker problem and the airlift shortage!

  3. airplane jim 7 July, 2009 at 7:56 pm #

    Celestine must be working for Airbag. Her proposal lets them off the hook for lots of liability in the EU and they get a 200 aircraft build contract for the default. In return the US get to split a few aircraft that the EU will buy. Sounds like a hell of a deal.

    On the other hand Jimmy has a great idea. After all USAF asked for a tanker and NAD proposed an over sized passenger/tanker and expounded on those virtues. With the C-17 tanker you would get cargo capacity and even more fuel capability than the KC-30.

  4. Nicolas Cousineau 7 July, 2009 at 11:35 pm #

    It seems interesting, at first glance…

    But, of course, for Americans, it is not good enough. For them, the only right choice is for Europe to buy C-17s, C-130s, F-35s and KC-767 and for the USA to buy C-17s, C-130s, F-35s and KC-767. Everything else is unfair and unwise.

  5. Princeton Scotch 8 July, 2009 at 2:49 am #

    With our without a boom will the A330′s have issues with their pitot tubes? Just a thought

  6. EG 8 July, 2009 at 4:48 pm #

    Nicolas,
    From a money spent it’s a bad deal for America.You want to offer offsets to achieve financial parity?

  7. SL 8 July, 2009 at 6:43 pm #

    Also good infos and thoughts on this topic:

    http://www.richardaboulafia.com/shownote.asp?id=290

    http://www.swp-berlin.org/en/produkte/swp_aktuell_detail.php?id=10427

    Greetings.

    SL

  8. Christopher Dye 8 July, 2009 at 8:40 pm #

    This was Richard Aboulafia’s idea several months ago in one of his news letters. One of the many advantages, he pointed out, was that neither compay would have to pay large amounts to build facilities in the foreegn country.

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