Italy's Finmeccanica, virtually unknown in the US defence market even five years ago, seems to have set its sights on cracking the ultimate transatlantic trade barrier: the coveted status of prime contractor.

As the multi-billion T-X contest to replace the Northrop T-38 trainer looms, Finmeccanica subsidiary Alenia Aermacchi wants to cut out the US-owned middle-man, also known as prime contractor, that in effect resells European-made equipment to the Department of Defense.

It is an open scandal that foreign suppliers feel compelled by the D0D to cede prime contractor authority to a US-based company that often does little more than serve as an expensive and unnecessary pass-through.

The unwritten policy is in effect even when there are no US-built options, as in the case of light transports.

The exception is the US Army's selection of EADS North America's Eurocopter EC145-based UH-72A Lakota over US-based rivals. But this is not a combat helicopter. Real change would come if the army buys the AS635, which EADS is proposing as prime contractor to replace Bell OH-58Ds.

The DoD should accept market reality: the US military depends on foreign suppliers for some key equipment. US taxpayers should not pay extra to maintain a fictional industrial self-sufficiency. If Alenia Aermacchi offers its M-346 for the T-X contract, it should do so on its own without fear of competitive disadvantage.

Source: Flight International