Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
Since the end of World War II, the U.S. military has worked to prepare for a major conflict with another great power. That preparation served as an effective deterrent, and we never had to fight that war against the U.S.S.R., its successor Russia, or any other great power.
But no military can stand still. The U.S. needs the latest weapons, training, and platforms to deter potential enemies.
As two military experts wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal, “The war in Ukraine should galvanize Washington policymakers. It has demonstrated that America’s defense-industrial base isn’t up to the job of supplying the U.S. military with weapons for a prolonged conventional conflict with a major power.”
Of course, a big part of being prepared for war is selecting the correct contractors to build your weapons. The best, most reliable contractors produce the best, most reliable weapons. And unreliable contractors produce unreliable weapons. The situation in Ukraine highlights failures in contracting as well.
When Russia first launched its invasion, the U.S. and our European allies moved quickly to impose sanctions against Russia. For example, the West agreed to vastly reduce purchases of Russian energy, including oil, natural gas, and coal. Another sanction included a ban on the export of dual-use goods to the U.S., the EU, or Great Britain. These include items with both a civilian and military purpose such as car parts. Important raw materials for weapon building would naturally be included here as well.
But not one raw material: the rare metal titanium. That’s because European airplane maker Airbus, a major defense contractor on both sides of the Atlantic, opposes any such ban.
“We don’t think sanctions on imports [of titanium] will be appropriate,” Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury said this spring. “This will be a small impact on Russia, and would have large consequences on the rest of the countries and the industry. So we think the no-sanction policy actually is the most meaningful one.”
Airbus is an unreliable contractor, out of step with its clients and indeed the entire civilized world.
“This is what sanctions should be: They should be maximum, so that Russia and every other potential aggressor that wants to wage a brutal war against its neighbor would clearly know the immediate consequences of their actions,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the Davos forum this year. Such sanctions would, of course, include the import of titanium.
It is easy to understand the position Airbus is taking. Titanium is rare, it is necessary to make modern planes, and the company gets half the titanium it needs from Russia. However, understanding the position does not validate the position. Everyone is making sacrifices these days, and Airbus is setting itself up as an exception. This only helps Russia; it does not help Ukraine or the governments that Airbus contracts for, and Airbus is seeking a contract with the U.S. military.
This lack of reliability is especially important, because Airbus works on many weapon systems for the Pentagon. As recently as this May — after Airbus had declared it didn’t agree with sanctions on Russian metal — the company was crowing about a new contract. “Airbus has signed a follow-on Contractor Logistics Support (CLS) contract with the U.S. Army to provide spare parts, material, and engineering support for the Army’s entire UH-72A and UH-72 B Lakota fleet of 482 utility and training helicopters,” it wrote. That makes little sense.
Airbus also wants to be able to bid on a key contract to build tanker planes for the U.S. military, even though there is already a contract in place and planes coming off an American assembly line. This idea also makes no sense. U.S. policymakers shouldn’t allow Airbus to bid on such an important strategic project.
The Pentagon is working hard to deter potential enemies. It needs reliable contractors it can count on. Right now, Airbus is on the wrong side of the debate.
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