A Whole New Twist on “Buy America”: Or How Not to Support an Afghan Transition

By Robbin Laird

This weekend in a fine piece in The New York Times, C.J. Chivers focused on  the airpower dimension in Afghan operations.  The title was tellingly: “Afghan Conflict Losing Air Power as U.S. pulls out.”


In its way, this strike was a model of what air power can do. It was timely, precise and effective, and it neatly integrated communications, logistics, tactics and firepower, freeing American troops from danger in a remote canyon halfway around the world.


It was also so complex — with the assistance of an aerial tanker from the Air Force that allowed Navy aircraft to loiter above a battlefield, the use of an infrared marker for a trained controller with night-vision equipment to confirm a target, the release of a laser-guided bomb near a friendly convoy and an off-limits international border — that almost nothing about it was replicable by Afghan forces.


Asked how Afghan soldiers or police officers might manage a similar tactical problem in the same canyon, Commander Burks gave a knowing frown. “It’s the Wild, Wild West, and the Afghans don’t have these assets to put in the air,” he said. “I don’t know, but they’re not going to do this.”


Well General Mattis did.  As have various U.S. generals who have focused on the problem:  the answer was to provide the Afghans with the Super Tucano, a combat turboprop with proven performance and a significant record of success.

In Afghanistan, US airpower represents one of our joint force’s greatest asymmetric advantages over the enemy. The employment of air-based joint fires, used properly, will wreak havoc on enemy forces. In the fluid environment of a counter-insurgency fight, the decision to employ these joint air-based fires will come from leaders who understand that to be effective these fires must be employed rapidly and precisely against the enemy while avoiding civilian casualties. Effective employment often requires persistent observation, integrated intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), and shortened approval procedures. Our airpower is unmatched in the world, however today’s approach of loitering multi-million dollar aircraft and using a system-of-systems procedure for the approval and employment of airpower is not the most effective use of aviation fires in this irregular fight.


A Light Attack Armed Reconnaissance (LAAR) aircraft capability has the potential to shift air support from a reactive threat response, to a more proactive approach that reduces sensor-to-shooter timelines, with immediate and accurate fires, providing surveillance and reconnaissance throughout a mission, while providing communication and navigation support to troops on the ground. Additionally, a LAAR capability can provide a means to build partner capacity with effective, relevant air support. This year Joint Forces Command will closely follow a project called Imminent Fury where the Navy and Air Force will employ a LAAR capability to reinforce our asymmetric advantage over the enemy.



Sounds good and what happened.  Well, the Super Tucano is built by a FOREIGN company and even though the ST was to be built in the United States, an AMERICAN company and its supporters mounted a counter attack.

Sounds familiar.  Northrop and then EADS North America were to build a FOREIGN designed tanker in the United States, but then Boeing and its supporters mounted the charge about FOREIGN or even worse FRENCH companies getting a share of a U.S. (read their) contract.

In both cases, the Kansas Congressional delegation has been heavily involved.  In the first case, they were rewarded with their effort by Boeing pulling out of Wichita AFTER having won an initial tanker contract.


The Kansas Congressional delegation worked overtime to insure that THEIR AMERICAN company, Hawker Beechcraft, would get a contract for its AT-6 trainer (did someone forget the proven combat aircraft piece?) to supply the Afghans.

But along the way the AMERICAN company might well become Chinese.  This is a new twist on BUY an American company to BUY American.

Struggling aircraft maker Hawker Beechcraft announced Monday that it had reached a $1.79 billion “exclusivity agreement” with a Chinese aerospace manufacturer for the sale of its business jet and general aviation operations in a deal that will save thousands of jobs in Kansas and Arkansas.


Under the agreement Beijing-based aerospace manufacturer Superior Aviation Beijing Co., Ltd., will buy Hawker Beechcraft and make payments over the next six weeks to support ongoing operations until the deal is finalized.


The sale does not include Hawker Beechcraft Defense Co., which will remain a separate entity.

The last sentence – the defense company – remaining a separate entity is an interesting one for Hawker Beechcraft is overwhelmingly a civil company.  And of course, the Chinese owned company would build the airframe and airplane, with the special mission systems provided by U.S. companies one would presume.

And how is this different from what the FOREIGN Company would do?  Well only an AMERICAN owned company can use foreign parts and stuff and remain AMERICAN whereas companies like Embraer and Airbus who are FOREIGN owned and use significant American parts and stuff are really OFFSHORE MONSTERS.

As a side issue of course is the question of Afghanistan and its transition.  So back to the question posed by The New York Times reporter; how will the Afghans do successful ops against the Taliban without airpower?

As General Walters, now 2nd MAW and then Commander of 2nd MAW forward in Afghanistan underscored:

SLD: As we face transition in Afghanistan, one option clearly is to rely more on the Special Forces type of support to the Afghans against the insurgency.  Your experience in many ways presages such an effort.  How would your experience shape understanding from a professional military point of view of how to best support the Afghans with a Special Forces type of support?


General Walters:  Our role will be to support the Afghan security forces.  You’re going to have to support those guys, and they’re going to be much more distributed.  You’re not going to have the battalions out there that you support people on the FABs.  It’s going to have to be from a central location.  And the QRF (Quick Reaction Force) is going to have to be good, and it’s going to have to be there quickly.


In the end, we have to be able to prove to the Afghan security forces that if something happens, this platoon is good enough until we get someone in there.

If you ever need more than a platoon’s worth of trigger pullers in a district center, the V22s is how you’re going to get there quickly and decisively enough to matter.

The Afghan National Army and Afghan Security Forces understand from their perspective, how important air is.  We have made them big consumers.


They know that the air is there for them; they’ll go out and operate.  I’ve had more than one brigade commander tell me that if it wasn’t for the medevac, it wasn’t for the resupply, and if it wasn’t for the aviation fires, he didn’t think he could get the battalions out operating like they do.  Because they’ve learned that if they get hurt, we’ll fix them.  They know if they run out of bullets, we’ll get them bullets.  And if they’re hungry or thirsty, we’ll get them food and water.


As General Mattis knew SEVERAL YEARS ago the answer was Super Tucano.  The answer is still Super Tucano, but the American procurement process has been derailed by Buy America games, games that never deliver superior capability in a timely fashion to the warfighter.

Unfortunately, the Honorable Ed Timperlake in his ongoing pieces on the Light Attack Aircraft “competition” has noted frequently, the Hawker Beechcraft saga has been a sideshow with strategic consequences for our allies in the fight in Afghanistan.

In a piece published on February 9 of this year, Ed penned a piece entitled: The next AT-6 Hail Mary: PRC receivers going toward the end zone?

To quote from this piece – again published in February –

Hawker Beechcraft is in a fight for survival and they  have been  trying to  win the LAS competition even after normal channels have been exhausted after losing. Rather than bowing out gracefully and let the USAF support US troops in combat they initiated legal action.  HBC  tried to game the USAF solicitation for a Light Attack (LAS) aircraft for the Afghan Army Air Force by submitting a developmental non-production ready AT-6, in spite of clear RFP requirements for a NON-development PRODUCTION ready LAS aircraft.


In being thrown out of the competition, HBC then initiated a lawsuit to reverse the USAF selection of the SuperTucano. The GAO validated the USAF decision, but even this was not enough for Hawker Beechcraft.


Not only have the leadership of HBC challenged the integrity of the Air Force and GAO and are now carrying their fight to Congress with significant tones of anti-foreign Brazil bashing.  Something hardly helpful to the President’s export agenda, as Brazil has just surpassed the United Kingdom as the 6th largest global economy.


Trying to get Congressman to involve themselves on one side of an open Federal court case is a very silly and rookie Hill maneuver. Even more amazing the owners of HBC, which are Goldman Sachs and Onyx, a Canadian firm, apparently want to do international financial deals. Insulting Brazil in the midst of a fighter down select, while the Boeing  F/A-18 is fighting for its life in the global market, seems a bit miscalculated as well.


Continuing with the AvWeek report—“He (‘the turnaround kid’-ed) said that Hawker Beechcraft “absolutely” could survive as a stand-alone company and dismissed speculation that its private owners–Canadian investment firm Onex Corp. and Goldman Sachs, which paid a top-of the- market price of $3.3 billion five years ago–might sell off the civil side of the company to a Chinese entity.


The biggest red flag is when “the turnaround kid” is quoted as saying— “There is no plan in my kit bag here to sell this company or any of its pieces,” Miller said. “You can never say never, but China is principally of interest to me because it’s a great and growing market.”


Watch out!


America has been here before.


The history of this type of activity with the Peoples Republic of China has not been kind to the American worker and our Defense Industrial Base. Joint Ventures with allies and fellow democracies have tremendous potential, but with the PRC absolutely not.

American workers are always caught in the middle between Investment Banking “deal making ” and PRC scamming and have over time learned some very hard lessons.


One egregious and famous example is the loss of an entire factory.


On August 24th 1993, Chinese Officials walked into a McDonnell Douglas managed defense plant in Columbus Ohio. The plant had giant computer-controlled strategic machine tools. It built parts for the Minuteman missile, F-15 Fighter and C-17 airlifter.


Needless to say the workers tried to block the PLA visitors with overturned tables and filing cabinets. All future PLA site surveys were scheduled for Sunday when the plant was shut down. But the deal went through and the tools were shipped to China.


Ultimately, everyone lost McD and the workers are both gone except of course the PRC who won because the machine tools wound up in PLA military factories.

Consequently, when the PRC makes overtures for joint ventures American national security can be put at risk, industrial base jobs will be lost and dual use technology compromised.



For history repeating itself see


And a final note:

A successful deal would fill a gap in China’s aviation capabilities as the company seeks to secure business jet technology and help develop China’s small but growing private aviation market.


Superior Aviation Beijing Co is a 60-40 joint venture between privately owned Beijing Superior Aviation Technology Co and government-backed Beijing E-Tong International Investment & Development Co.


“There could be lot of opportunities for us if the government opens up the private jet sector,” said Superior’s spokesman, Qian Chunyuan, adding the deal would be funded with bank loans and the company’s own money.


If the deal does get through, the priority for Superior is to keep Beechcraft afloat rather than moving its plants to China, he said. The Chinese maker of plane engines and parts has offered to fund Hawker Beechcraft’s jet operations over the next six weeks.


“It’s not as simple as a car plant. It’s much more complicated…We wouldn’t move the plants to China and start making jets in China right away. Our priority will be to keep Hawker Beechcraft afloat and resume its normal operations in the U.S. rather than moving everything to China.”






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