Dangerous times require a serious response

The most dangerous times in history are periods of instability.  Today we have a pandemic shaking up economies everywhere, Russia lashing out against its neighbors, and China reaching its peak economic and military strength.

In the Wall Street Journal, Professors Hal Brands and Michael Buckley note that nations often try to launch attacks when they think they may soon begin to decline.  "This peaking power syndrome," they write, "has caused some of the bloodiest wars in history," including both world wars, when Germany struck in 1914 and Japan in 1941.  They warn that China is in a similar position today.

In the years ahead, China "probably can't outpace America in a superpower marathon, let alone America plus its allies," they write.  "But in the near-term, we should expect a more dangerous China — one that gambles big to reshape the balance of power before its window closes."  They warn that the U.S. needs to prepare to protect Taiwan and push back against potential Chinese aggression.

In any modern war, air power will be a central component. To prevail, the U.S. needs the best fleet of refueling tankers so we can keep our planes in the fight.  We are already deploying a successful new American-made tanker.  Now is not the time to go back to the drawing board on the tanker program, as some in the defense community are pushing to do.

European contractor Airbus, for example, is pressing for the U.S. to buy some of its tankers, which would be designed in Europe and shipped to the States for final assembly.  This idea would take the program back by most of a decade, as the Airbus design would need to be built, tested, and approved.  The KC-46 Pegasus has already cleared those hurdles.  It needs only to be put into service, replacing the aging KC-135.

Airbus is known for being close to China.  It recently agreed to a deal to sell more than 2,000 aircraft to the Chinese.  "These new orders demonstrate the strong confidence in Airbus from our customers," an Airbus official crowed in a news release.  Politico reported on June 22, 2022, "Top European planemaker Airbus has advanced technology sharing and manufacturing agreements with entities linked to China's state-run military apparatus, a new report shows."  China is known for stealing intellectual property from companies that operate there.  There is nothing to stop the Chinese from stealing the tanker designs while the European company is working there.  We need the American-made tanker now, and we can't afford to gamble on some Airbus knock-off.

Airbus is currently engaged in commercial activities with America's other largest adversary: Russia.  According to the Wall Street Journal, Airbus "has publicly called for the European Union to hold off imposing sanctions on critical components of its aircraft, from landing gear and fasteners to the pylons that connect an engine to a wing."  The foreign company continues to purchase titanium from a Russian company while pressuring the European Union to exempt it from any sanctions involving Russia.

The Russian engagement shows that the company is not on board with sanctions put together by the U.S. and the European Union.  The only way sanctions work is if they are complete and oppressive.  The E.U. recently incorporated several metals, including gold, in new sanctions, yet titanium was pulled out of the package at the behest of Airbus.  The company is the largest aerospace company in the world, and it are based in France, explaining why the E.U. gives it the power to change sanctions, yet if one company wants a special exemption to sanctions, then sanctions are not complete.  One can expect other companies to ask for sanctions to be dialed back for their industry and they can point to Airbus as a company that has successfully changed sanctions to suit their corporate needs.

The next decade requires America to win the new arms and influence race.  We must ensure that all of our defense assets are American sourced.  The current tanker is key to this policy.

Phil Kiver, Ph.D. is an Army veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.  He received his doctorate in strategic studies at Henley-Putnam University.

Image: Liz West.

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