IAM Editorial: The U.S. Air Force’s Billion Dollar Mistake

In an op-ed published today in Roll Call, IAM International President Tom Buffenbarger calls on the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and Air Force to reconsider their decision to award a contract worth billions of dollars to a foreign-owned company. The contract in question ignored formal procurement processes to award a foreign company the manufacture and delivery of 20 light air support (LAS) aircraft to the Afghan Air Force, and is set to expand to hundreds of aircraft over time.

“For generations, the U.S. aerospace sector has been a partner with the military, building and servicing airplanes for every conflict since World War I,” Buffenbarger wrote. “Today, the aerospace industry directly employs more than 600,000 skilled Americans, including highly-skilled engineers and machinists, but their ability to respond to the needs of our armed forces is being compromised. The Air Force’s LAS procurement allowed it to bypass many normal DOD-mandated requirements-setting and procurement procedures and the American worker’s opportunity to build that needed aircraft was subverted as a result.”

Buffenbarger goes on to ask that members of the House Armed Services Committee, who are holding a hearing with Air Force officials this Friday, insist to the secretary of the Air Force and other DOD officials that the procurement decision be limited to only Afghanistan.

“A 27-nation Building Partnership Capacity program of record should not be allowed to stand on the unique and irregular Afghan requirements and the use of unique wartime procurement authority,” Buffenbarger wrote. “Procurement officials must be required to follow proper requirements and procurement processes if they seek to establish a program of record worth north of $9 billion for 26 countries dissimilar from Afghanistan in multiple and unassessed ways.”

“As the president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, I am proud of the high quality aircraft that our members at Beechcraft have produced for the Air Force. Together with the company we are confident that we have built a superior, cost effective product that will serve the ongoing needs of our military trainers, as well as allied militaries around the globe that will want to purchase the AT-6, and, eventually, other U.S.-made aircraft. But first, the Air Force and Defense Department must correct the scope of the LAS procurement.”