Much, though nowhere near enough, has been written of the Defense Department’s boondoggle in the arena of a $300 million contract for 20 Light Air Support (LAS) aircraft to be sent to Afghanistan and done in the name of bringing our troops home.
The process, wrought with controversy, ended with the United States government doling out a taxpayer-funded defense contract to a foreign government-controlled manufacturer – Brazil’s Embraer – over an American one – Kansas-based Beechcraft – costing over a thousand domestic jobs and incurring unnecessary national security risks in the process.
Brazil’s government – which owns a controlling ‘Golden Share’ in Embraer – has made its been overt in its opposition to U.S. foreign policy aims, making the decision to entrust a company subsidized by that government with our national defense even more bewildering.
After announcing Embraer’s selection, the DOD ignored protests regarding the lack of transparency in the decision-making process that have historically been given credence, citing an immediate need for the planes in Afghanistan.
New information has come to light that casts serious doubts on that assertion, and indicates that other questionable procurement deals are being carried out in the name of urgency and national defense.
In addition to the LAS boondoggle, the Air Force also agreed to purchase 30 Mi-17 helicopters from Russia’s Rosoboronexport last month.
Rosoboronexport is a “major supplier of weapons to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad,” who was launching chemical attacks against his own people as the ink was drying on the Air Force contract.
Yes, you read that right – as President Obama and top officials discuss options to give military aid to the Syrian rebels, our Defense Department will be helping to keep one of Assad’s top suppliers in business.
What of the DOD’s protestations that the planes and helicopters are desperately needed in Afghanistan? Watchdog group Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reports that “Afghan special forces unit due to receive the aircraft could not fly or maintain them.”
Not only are we setting a controversial and dangerous precedent for whom we deal with on defense matters, but it’s being done in the name of equipping Afghan forces that aren’t even ready to fly or maintain the craft?
The SIGAR study further notes that that the “Afghan Special Mission Wing, which will support counterterrorism and counternarcotics operations, had only 180 personnel earlier this year, less than a quarter of the 860 people envisioned for the force by July 2015.”
Despite Afghan forces who are unable to put the planes we’ve already ordered to use, the Department of Defense’s proposed FY 2014 budget calls for “an additional 20 [LAS] aircraft, funded with FY 2014 funds,” running the total to 40.
Are we to assume that these, too, will be handed on a silver platter to Embraer and, by extension, Brazil’s government while we are being forced to make difficult budget cuts domestically?
Bureaucratic bungling has created a situation in which the U.S. government – and taxpayers – are cutting checks to foreign entities that are at best not helpful and, in the case of Rosoboronexport, directly contradictory to our strategic military and national security aims.
It’s time for action on this, lest we continue to entrust our national defense to those we aren’t defending.