Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 00:56 | SYDNEY
Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 00:56 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: The 'mettle' of Robert Gates


Sam Roggeveen


12 September 2008 09:48

Charlie Edwards from Global Dashboard writes:

It’s a bit disingenuous to suggest Gates is proving his mettle by cancelling a huge weapons contract –the tankers refuel planes in flight! What it does prove is the power of the US defence industry — (who have been lobbying him on the deal since it became apparent Airbus would win it). The tanker contract was between European Airbus versus US Boeing (protectionism is alive and well).

Charlie is right: I should have referred to a 'military' contract, since the deal that Gates cancelled was for airborne refuelling aircraft, which aren't really 'weapons'. But the implication that Gates is doing the bidding of US defence contractors by cancelling this order is, I think, wrong. Airbus did win the contract, but Boeing appealled and the contest was relaunched after that appeal was upheld. Gates has now cancelled the new contract to clear the decks for the next president. I don't see how that favours either bidder.

The reason I referred to Robert Gates' mettle is that, in explaining his decision to cancel the new contest, he made some very frank criticisms of the way the Pentagon has handled this entire matter. That strikes me as a pretty desirable attitude for tackling what is clearly a deeply flawed procurement system.

On the question of protectionism, clearly that is still deeply ingrained in the way the Pentagon buys weapons. But there are signs of improvement in that area, particularly in aviation. It is surely a good sign that Airbus won the initial tanker contract. And European manufacturers have also won two big helicopter deals, one with the US Army and another to supply the presidential helicopter, no less.