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Senator Murray Questions Air Force Secretary Wynne About the Tanker Contract

Mar 12 2008

Appropriations Defense Subcommittee - Hearing Transcript

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MURRAY:  Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Secretary Wynne, I do have many questions regarding the decision on the aerial refueling tanker, but before I get to that, I must raise a related item with you that I'm concerned about.

The week of the announcement of Airbus winning the tanker competition, there was a paper released by Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute extolling the benefits of the Airbus platform and indicating somehow that the Boeing plane was a lesser plane.

That was right after the decision was made.  It was prior to Boeing being debriefed and prior to Congress getting debriefed.  How do you defend the information leaks on this decision from the Air Force?

WYNNE:  I cannot defend it.  I have inquired and conducted an inquiry.  I would say that I thought it was a travesty for anybody to talk to anybody before we talked to the winning and losing candidates.

MURRAY:  Well, what it looked like from our end was that the Air Force was engaging in an ad campaign to fill the papers with misinformation that no one could refute because no one had been debriefed by this.

WYNNE:  I actually apologized to the Boeing folks about this.  It was sort of an unfair, certainly preemptive press article.

MURRAY:  Do you believe a violation occurred?

WYNNE:  Ma'am, I don't know that.

MURRAY:  Yes, I know you stated something similar to that yesterday before the House.

I mean, it leads me to ask how many other violations have occurred.  Who else was talked to?  What information was given out? Who had it?  Are there any other leaks?

I'd have to say that we try very hard to hold a very tight hold.  I would say that Loren Thompson seems to have sources that are not willing to come forward and say that they were the one.

MURRAY:  So there are sources within the Air Force that were talking to...

WYNNE:  I have no idea.  I have no idea.

Clearly.  I mean, obviously, there had to be.

WYNNE:  I have no idea where he got his information from.

MURRAY:  So how are you going to find out?

WYNNE:  I have no means or mechanisms to force a subpoena on anybody.

MURRAY:  Well, that's very troubling, because not only am I worried about what appears to be a big ad campaign before anybody could defend anything or have another story that lasted for well into a week and a half, but if someone is talking to Loren Thompson, the question has to be asked who else are they talking to.

Were they talking to either of the companies?  You know, what was occurring throughout this process?  It leaves a big question out there.  No response?

WYNNE:  No, ma'am.  I have told everybody that it is improper and you can only expect that upholding the integrity of the process is foremost in everybody's mind, and yet...

MURRAY:  Well, I think it leaves a question for all of us on the integrity.

I have to say I am very perplexed by the outcome of this process. After all, the competition was for a replacement of a medium-sized KC-135 tanker, but what the Air Force selected is an aircraft larger than the KC-10.

I mean, what it looks like from my end is that you put out an RFP for a pickup truck to carry three quarters of a ton and what you selected at the end of the day was an 18-wheeler -- doesn't get great gas mileage, can't park where we've got parking garages today, and it's, you know, a completely different concept.  So you know, it is surprising, I think, to everyone.

But let me ask you, now that you have selected a much larger aircraft, what will be the associated cost for our military construction budget?  Can these Airbus planes fit in the hangars that we have today?

WYNNE:  Ma'am, I have done very little work in where it goes.  I will tell you that it's all part of the evaluation that's currently under protest.  I will tell you that in the RFP there was no indications of size.

And I will tell you that in the analysis of alternatives for replacing the KC-135 the 330, the 340, the 767, the 77 and the 787 were all cited as potential candidates.  Every one of these suppliers knew the competitors' offerings.

MURRAY:  Well, Mr. Chairman, in terms of MILCON, I think that is something we have to look at -- longer runways, larger aircraft hangars, what is the cost of that, and I hope that we'll be able to do that.

Mr. Secretary, I've had a lot of conversations about this.  I have listened to all the press conferences.  I've got to tell you, I am left with more questions than answers.

It's become very clear that there were many factors that the Air Force didn't consider in this -- the pending WTO case that the United States now has against the E.U. regarding the illegal subsidies that are provided for the development of the Airbus commercial aircraft, the total cost to our government for military construction, the impact of a subsidized R& D on the cost per aircraft, potential national security implications of outsourcing the backbone of our air superiority to a foreign country.

And you know, I've listened to all the Air Force officials like Sue Payton and yourself, and I keep hearing the same phrase again and again.  You said it in your opening remarks.  "We followed the law and we went by the book." Well, the Air Force seems to be acknowledging, it seems to me,that there are factors of concern that were outside what was required by the law to be considered, like national security.

And that leads me to a very important question.  Do you feel the procurement process as it currently exists takes into account all of the factors that should be considered when fielding critical defense platforms?

WYNNE:  I will say that the acquisition laws have been layered on layered on layered over the years.  They are extraordinarily complex. It goes to alliances.  It goes to coalitions.  It goes to many aspects of procurement.

And as you know, the presidential helicopter is, in fact, an international offering.  The CSTAR has international offerings.  The C-27 is an international offering.  It goes to how much of the industrial base of America is dedicated.

You might not know but you should know that the MRAPs are currently being lifted by Russian Antonov airplanes from Charleston because we believe that's the most efficient way to do it.

I think if there is a consideration, it has to go very deep into how much is America willing to invest in its industrial base.

MURRAY:  Well, is the current process out of line, from your viewpoint, with what is necessary to give a complete and accurate picture to meet our defense needs?

WYNNE:  No, ma'am.  I think we have gone through this over the last several years, and the laws are very clear in who they allow to be a competitor, what part of the...

MURRAY:  The laws are very clear.  The laws are clear, but I'm asking you if you think the current procurement process reflects the needs of the defense, of our defense.

WYNNE:  I think right now I worry about the industrial base of the future.  I think we started to decay our industrial base in 1990. And I think our market doesn't support a large industrial base right now.

MURRAY:  Does the current process put American companies at a disadvantage when competing with subsidized companies?

WYNNE:  I don't know that.  I can't measure that.

MURRAY:  Well, Mr. Secretary, this concern isn't just about utilizing American ingenuity to meet the needs of the war fighter.  I think we have to consider what an R& D investment in a foreign company could lead to.

Airbus and EADS have already given us plenty of reason to worry about how hard they're going to work to protect America's security interests.  In 2005, EADS was caught trying to sell military helicopters to Iran.  In 2006, EADS tried to sell transport and patrol planes to Venezuela, which is a circumvention of U.S. law.

They don't have to follow our laws.  And that really is a concern for me as a United States senator.  Do you have similar concerns?

WYNNE:  Ma'am, I will tell you from a standpoint of an ex-official in the acquisition process, I follow the law of the United  States of America to the best of my ability.  So you tell me how to react to that.

MURRAY:  I've heard you say that many times.

And I think, Mr. Chairman, that's what gives me pause, is that the Air Force is following the letter of the law.  I think we as policy-makers have to think whether, to quote a famous author, "the law is an ass."

And I think we have to think about whether or not our laws are protecting our national security interests, our economic interests and our military infrastructure.

I have several other questions, but I will wait for the next round.

Senator, might I add a parallel thought to my secretary?  Ma'am, I would also say this is about fielding capability.

This is about being able to field systems on time and being able to field systems to replace close to a 50-year-old airplane that has served us very, very well.

To be able to look at Guardsmen, reservists or active duty crews, pilots, co-pilots, boomers or crew chiefs that maintain old airplanes and tell them that we'll wait while we have the technology and the capability to field a new system is something that's not -- it's not a good feeling for a chief of staff.

And so this is about fielding capability to be able to fight this country's wars and win.

MURRAY:  General, I have fought for a long time to get these refueling tankers built.  I represent men and women in my state who fly these.  I know they are very old.

But I also think we as policy-makers have to make sure that we're making the right policy for decades to come about our national security and our economic interests for the future, and not make a mistake in doing that.

I want to get those planes up there.  I want my men and women flying the best.  But I want my national security interests to be at stake as well.