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Pentagon stiffs Boeing, picks Airbus

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COMMENTS

3 March 2008 12:08

Given the way US policy-makers and military types felt about France until recently — culminating in the widespread adoption of the epithet 'Cheese-eating surrender monkey' — this is a huge upset: the Pentagon has picked a consortium led by the European airline manufacturer Airbus over rival Boeing for a US$40 billion contract to build aerial refuelling aircraft for the US Air Force. In other words, the next generation of America's airborne tankers will be built largely in Tolouse.

Although foreigners get an occasional look-in for American defence contracts, the military procurement game has traditionally been weighted in favour of American manufacturers. There have been hints of change, most notably when the Pentagon picked a European design for the new generation of presidential helicopters, a prestige project if ever there was one.

But this should not be seen as a huge victory for free trade or as evidence that the cozy reationship between the US Congress and defence multinationals is eroding. The military-industrial complex is far from dead; it's just that the Europeans are getting better at playing the game. Airbus has promised to assemble the new tankers at a factory in Alabama and will spread work to other US states, ensuring long-term support from local politicians.

But the decision does show that the aviation business is truly globalised, making it harder to potect 'national' assets, because they are anything but national. Boeing is actually leading this effort, with parts for the new 787 being built all over the world.

Photo by Flickr user Wocka, used under a Creative Commons licence.