On February 28, in a decision that had major implications for Mississippi’s economy, the Air Force announced it had awarded a $40 billion contract to Northrop Grumman and EADS North America to build 179 aerial refueling tankers. The tankers, which would be assembled in Mobile, Alabama, would create up to 2,000 new jobs on the Gulf Coast, many of which would be filled by Mississippians.
Unfortunately, the contract is not yet final. The main competitor to Northrop Grumman and EADS has protested the Air Force’s decision in hopes that it will be reversed. If that were to happen, it would be bad for both our military and U.S. taxpayers and harmful to the Mississippi economy.
TANKER GOOD FOR ECONOMY
Hurricane Katrina’s landfall along the Gulf Coast hurt more than buildings and structures; it also hurt the economy. While the economy along the Coast has made great progress in getting back to pre-Katrina strength, there is more work to do. The construction of the Air Force’s new tanker in Mobile would have an economic impact that would be felt throughout the Gulf Coast.
Just as a rising tide lifts all boats, the construction of these tankers on the Gulf Coast would benefit the entire state of Mississippi. Tanker construction on the Coast would foster a new aerospace manufacturing corridor in the southeastern United States. This would be positive news to the many defense-related businesses across Mississippi, from the Tennessee state line down to the Gulf Coast.
The national economy would also benefit. In addition to the 2,000 jobs along the Gulf Coast, the Northrop Grumman tanker would create an additional 46,000 direct and indirect jobs nationwide. The project would cast a wide economic net, calling on 230 companies in 49 states to help build the tankers.
MISINFORMATION NOT HELPFUL
The competition to win this contract has been spirited, but it has energized a high level of misinformation that is not helpful to the process. Some have suggested that the contract competition was not fair. This is simply false. The Air Force and Defense Department presided over perhaps the most fair and transparent acquisition process in history.
There has also been a high level of misinformation regarding American jobs being lost overseas if Northrop Grumman is awarded this contract. This, too, could not be further from the truth. The Northrop Grumman tanker will be an American tanker built by American workers. With the utilization of suppliers in 49 states and the ability to create nearly 50,000 American jobs, it is clear this is a winning situation for our economy and American workers.
DELAYS NOT HELPFUL
The protest over the Air Force’s decision to award this contract to Northrop Grumman is unhelpful for a number of reasons. Most importantly, it puts at risk the men and women who are flying the current fleet of tankers – planes that are more than 45 years old and which have been the Air Force’s top modernization priority for several years.
In making its decision on the tanker contract, the Air Force made an objective judgment based on the merits of the two competing proposals. The facts should be allowed to speak for themselves, and this contract should be allowed to move forward. For the good of our military, taxpayers and the Mississippi economy, I am optimistic that will happen.