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The fading of 'Buy American'



Published: Sat, February 12, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Los Angeles Times: Is it un-American for the president to be shuttled to Camp David in an un-American helicopter? Not according to the Navy, which last month awarded a $1.7-billion contract to Lockheed Martin to start building a fleet of 23 Marine One presidential choppers. Lockheed Martin's copters, which will also carry the vice president and other government officials, are based on an Italian design, with about 35 percent of the components built in Britain or Italy.

The contract award sends a powerful message to defense contractors: If European gear is good enough for the president, the rest of the military might also give it serious thought. That notion could get an immediate test as the Pentagon tries to resolve an ethics scandal over a $23-billion contract awarded to Boeing in 2002 to build aerial refueling tankers. After a former Air Force official admitted giving favorable terms to Boeing while seeking a job with the company, the Pentagon ordered a new bid on the contract. Boeing's chief rival, Airbus-owner European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co., should get a fair opportunity to compete.

Sensitive blueprints

Some caveats apply. The Defense Department shouldn't risk proprietary technology by shipping sensitive blueprints overseas. Offshore manufacturing and assembly plants must operate under tight security, and foreign suppliers must make spare parts readily available. Given the Boeing fiasco, Pentagon officials must guarantee that their competitions are cleanly run. And if the United States is going to spread its defense dollars overseas, its allies must reciprocate.

The Marine One contract award shows that defense manufacturers can no longer count on "buy American" rhetoric. That's a hard lesson for the Connecticut-based Sikorsky Aircraft, which lost out on the Marine One contract after having built every presidential helicopter ever flown.




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