Why is Team Obama playing politics with our national security?
Why is Team Obama playing politics with our national security?
Published June 27, 2012
June 6, 2012: U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta pays
tribute at the India Gate war memorial monument, in New Delhi, India.
Panetta is urging leaders of India to play a more robust role in
Afghanistan, as U.S. tensions with Pakistan, India's arch-rival,
continue to churn. (AP)
This undated file image provided by the U.S. Air Force shows the X-37B spacecraft. (AP2010)
In his recent visit to Afghanistan, President Obama signed an
agreement aimed at building a more robust relationship with an
independent Afghanistan, where it takes control of its own security. The
transition from US managed to Afghan-led security will require proper
training and support, providing the Afghan military the needed skills
and equipment to stand on its own.
A crucial aspect of an Afghani self-determined defense strategy will be
the control of its skies. The US Air Force is currently in the process
of procuring aircraft to support the Afghan Air Force, which would add
20 state of the art aircraft to the Afghan military arsenal.
Unfortunately, the road to this has been met with several significant
bumps, as the Air Force last year awarded the contract to Brazilian
company Embraer for its Super Tucano, as opposed to Kansas-based Hawker
Beechcraft for its AT-6, which is manufactured in America. In a recent
turn of events, however, the contract for the Brazilian-made aircraft
was dismissed by the Secretary of the Air Force, and the contract is
back on the table, setting off a new bidding process once again between a
foreign company and one that is American-owned and operated.
In order to successfully and independently fight terror, countries
like Afghanistan need a superior aircraft from a trustworthy and
reliable source. Currently, the US Air Force has identified at least 27
countries, in addition to Afghanistan, which require an aircraft to
fulfill Light Air Support (LAS) missions as defined by the United States
Building “partnership capacity,” by manufacturing and supplying
aircraft to America’s allies, is a key role outlined in America’s
national security strategy. I have direct experience with how this type
of partnership can develop essential relationships between the U.S. and
other nations, after spending two tours on the Joint Staff in Washington
and another in the Pacific, where I focused on international political
and military policy.
One has to ask then, why would we want to provide an aircraft that is
not even made in this country or flown by our own Airmen, particularly
after the U.S. has invested so much in Afghanistan over the past decade?
The underlying reason appears to be the defense relationship between
the US and Brazil. The US has recently been trying to bulk up relations
with the South American country, perhaps in the hopes of off-loading
some of its defense responsibility in the Western Hemisphere.
The LAS contract may throw a wrench in those plans to some extent if
not awarded to Brazil, given the country’s very calculated complaints
around the awarding of this contract. However, could that not also be
interpreted to mean that the proposal was awarded to Embraer in the
first place not based on the technical merits of the aircraft, but
rather due to political pressure from our neighbor down South? Brazil is
crying out about so-called political interference in the process, and
given the lack of transparency around the basis of the original decision
made last year, one could just as easily argue it was awarded to Brazil
in the first place only to appease them.
Because of the pressure coming from Brazil over the contract, the
Obama administration and State Department are, in somewhat unprecedented
fashion, stepping into the fray. In April, Defense Secretary Leon
Panetta visited the country as part of a highly-publicized campaign to
promote an initiative known as the US – Brazil Defense Cooperation
Dialogue, during which he alluded to Brazil as among “our closest
As Vinod Sreeharsha with McClatchy News reported, “Marco Aurelio
Garcia, a foreign policy adviser to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff,
said: ‘We have a very good relation with the U.S. and we want to
continue to develop it. But a decision like this creates problems not
only in military relations but in economic and commercial relations.’”
Since the cancellation, Brazil has been tossing out such threats,
perhaps a tactic used to intimidate our nation into appeasing the South
American country. After all, Embraer itself has stated that the real
value in the LAS contract is not the dollar figure associated with the
20 aircraft, but rather to add the US military to its resume, opening
the door for business with other countries, nefarious or not.
As Brazil beefs up and modernizes its military, there are also
defense contracts up for grabs by American companies. Some have
speculated that the administration’s interest actually lies in securing
US-based Boeing’s sale of 36 F-18 Super Hornet jet fighters in a
contentious competition worth a reported $6 billion. The belief is that
Brazil is using this much larger deal as collateral.
It is time to eliminate the political games and really drill down on
the broader implications this deal has for America’s national security
strategy. We most certainly want our Airmen teaching foreign nations,
particularly those to which we have made a significant commitment, how
to employ weapons that our Airmen are familiar with and trust.
Afghanistan needs an aircraft that can tangibly fight terror.
As Afghanistan embarks on a crucial mission in protecting a struggling
government from slipping back into lawlessness and harboring terrorism,
it is critical that Afghanistan’s LAS aircraft be supplied by a nation
who supports the war on terror and Operation Enduring Freedom, rather
than one who publicly condemns it like Brazil.
The clock is ticking to get Afghanistan the air support they so
desperately need. Even if Embraer’s Super Tucano was awarded a contract
tomorrow, it would take years to get the required certification for
weapons employment. Meanwhile, the AT-6 has been certified for US and
NATO weapons employment, and it is a familiar platform to US Airmen and
air forces around the world through Hawker Beechcraft’s widely popular
T-6 trainer aircraft.
If the US Air Force chooses an aircraft manufactured outside our borders
to be the LAS aircraft, then we are allowing that country to
potentially have significant influence on our policies and relationships
with the countries we are trying to help.
If Brazil’s Super Tucano was selected by the US, Brazil could later
choose to not support our policies and withdraw training, people, parts,
etc. used to support the aircraft. Where does that leave the US or
My point is not to say Brazil or some other country won’t support us,
but why would the US Air Force want to put us in that position to begin
with? To fix a problem like that wouldn’t just be expensive and time
consuming. The fallout could also be potentially devastating to US
Lt. Gen. Jeffrey A. Remington (Ret.) served as a three-star general
in the U.S. Air Force, with more than 35 years of experience and 4,100
flying hours. He is now an independent aviation consultant that counts
Hawker Beechcraft among his clients. The views expressed here are his
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