Thursday, July 10, 2008

Can America still compete? Boeing in circles....

For more aerial refueling photos, see this January 2007 post.

Yesterday, I asked if America can still compete in the world. If I had music on my blog, you'd have heard the fifes and drums building by the time you got to the end of the piece. I'd like to be optimistic. I'd like to lead the cheers.

And then I opened up the Sun-Times this morning. Just a little AP story, on page 39, about how Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp. will once again submit "new offers for a disputed $35 billion Air Force tanker contract."

You can read about the half century of service of our tanker fleet at this link to an article on Air-Scene UK. But even with meticulous maintenance, time and the advances of technology dictate that these machines must be replaced.

And here's where this ties into yesterday's post. The latest bid process is not the first. It's at least the third. This Wikipedia article seems to have the timeline down. Without looking, I recalled that Boeing had won the contract first -- but it was thrown out amid whispers of corruption and sharp dealing -- then Northrop Grumman got the deal -- and it, too, was thrown out. Now this.

This is no way for us to compete, people.

Part of it is that we've throttled back so much on aerospace programs -- the few surviving contractors fight like wild dogs over the scraps (multi-billion dollar scraps!) available. Boeing and Northrop Grumman have their partisans and stalwarts in the halls of Congress and the corridors of the Pentagon and nothing seems ever likely to be decided.

If we were to ramp up space colonization, there'd be plenty for these venerable industry icons to work on... and room for new players to enter as well. We need to get beyond the Lewis and Clark model of space exploration -- that's really what our astronauts have been, modern day Lewis and Clarks who've ventured on government missions into unknown territory. We need someone to design a 21st Century Conestoga wagon, a vehicle that can find its way into private hands and take our children to the stars. It's Manifest Destiny, I tell you....

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