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Let Europe’s Airbus Build Weapons for the EU, Not U.S.

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The United States needs allies, as every country does. But the United States shouldn’t depend completely on those allies. We must always be able to provide for our own “common defense,” as the Constitution says. So while it is nice to have the support of the European Union (when it is willing to provide support) Americans shouldn’t rely on European military support.

Especially from the France-based military contractor Airbus.

Recent news that Airbus is refusing to fix allegedly defective aircraft they sold to Qatar has put them in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. This shows the challenges faced when a contracting dispute occurs between a government and a company based elsewhere. The aircraft Airbus sold to Qatar suffers, according to Reuters, “deterioration to paint and anti-lightning protection on the long-haul jets, which Airbus has acknowledged needs attention while insisting it does not put safety at risk.”

Don’t get me wrong: Airbus is a good company. A good European company. But that is the problem. It’s too European. In fact, it is so European, it takes big bribes from the EU to help it compete against American manufacturers. Just a few years ago, the U.S. Trade Representative scored the largest decision in World Trade Organization history against the EU because of its subsidies to Airbus.

That 2019 decision came after four other decisions that showed EU subsidies to Airbus violated WTO rules. 

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“For years, Europe has been providing massive subsidies to Airbus that have seriously injured the U.S. aerospace industry and our workers. Finally, after 15 years of litigation, the WTO has confirmed that the United States is entitled to impose countermeasures in response to the EU’s illegal subsidies,” the U.S. trade representative at the time announced. 

That led to an actual trade war between the U.S. and the EU, and it wasn’t just planes that were caught up in the storm: agricultural products were subject to tariffs as well. Many things, on both sides of the Atlantic, were more expensive than they needed to be, all because Airbus had cheated.

The WTO fined Airbus a world-record $7.5 billion. “The Arbitrator calculated this amount based on WTO findings that EU launch aid for Airbus is causing significant lost sales of Boeing large civil aircraft, as well as impeding exports of Boeing large aircraft to the EU, Australia, China, Korea, Singapore, and UAE markets,” the office of USTR said at the time. 

Again, there’s nothing wrong with Europeans helping other Europeans. But as Americans, we need to make sure the Europeans cannot harm our national security. This matters now, because Airbus wants to win a key contract to build refueling tankers for the U.S. Air Force.

The European company claims it would build the planes in an American plant. However, it would actually use a European design and ship the jet frames here for final assembly. That would leave the entire process less secure, and would make it difficult to add the necessary weapons and defenses as technology evolves.

As military analyst Loren Thompson writes, it would also be a waste of money. “The Air Force has spent $1.6 billion flight-testing Pegasus [the existing tanker], and it is now certified to refuel the vast majority of combat aircraft in the joint fleet.” Bringing in a new design at this stage wouldn’t be cost-effective, even if it’s backed by massive EU subsidies.

“Bottom line: The Airbus tanker is going to look like a budget-buster to the Air Force, and many of its costs such as post-production sustainment are beyond the company’s ability to control,” Thompson concludes.

Speaking of spending, the Europeans haven’t been pulling their weight there, either. “Only a handful of European NATO members have met the alliance’s target of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense over the past 20 years, while the U.S. has consistently exceeded it, spending 3.1-4.9 percent,” Ian Bond wrote in Defense News. Europeans are happy to compete with the U.S. for contracts, but aren’t willing to spend what they should in order to be dependable military allies.

The United States has the most powerful and capable air force in the world. Its ability to refuel in flight is key to its global reach. We need to keep it that way, and keep manufacturing its new jets here at home. The EU isn’t a reliable ally in this space, and Europe’s Airbus can’t be trusted with a job this important.

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Gary S. Goldman is the nationally recognized host of “Business, Politics, & Lifestyles” a weekly talk show airing on WPRO in Providence RI. Learn more at  
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