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Opinion | Alabama businesses want to compete

The U.S. military deserves a tanker that works and allows America to respond to both current and future threats.

Lockheed Martin's LMXT Tanker. (VIA LOCKHEED MARTIN)

In 2018, as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I voted for the Fair and Open Competition Act designed to preserve open competition and federal government neutrality. Competition is the only way to ensure our U.S. military receives the very best at the very best price.

Right now, the U.S. Air Force is deciding on whether to compete the multibillion dollar KC-Y aerial refueling tanker program. A decision not to compete this critical program – and offer our service members the very best military platform – would be a failure in leadership.

The Failing KC-46 Tanker

Here in Alabama, we vividly remember the last tanker competition and the 2011 award to Boeing for the $35 billion contract for the KC-46 tanker. Today, that aircraft is still struggling to get fully certified and enter the fight. And now,with an emboldened Russia and China, it appears that the Air Force is shying away from a competition that could provide our warfighters with a better, more functional tanker.

While the Boeing KC-46 continues to have problems, the Airbus MRTT has been picking up the slack and working overtime to refuel U.S. and allied aircraft around the world during critical security and defense missions. The U.S. military now has the opportunity to buy the Lockheed Martin LMXT – designed off of the Airbus MRTT base aircraft with added range, fuel offload capacity and Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) capabilities.

The LMXT tanker is a best-in-class partnership that unites Airbus, the world’s leading aerospace manufacturer, and Lockheed Martin, the world’s leading defense provider, to create the ultimate aerial refueling tanker. Why would the Air Force look away from a competition that would allow them to examine this platform further?

The New Landscape

The advanced aerospace manufacturing landscape has changed considerably since the inception of the KC-46. Today, Mobile, Alabama is on the precipice of becoming the fourth largest commercial aerospace manufacturing city in the world due to continued industry investment. The influx of aviation and aerospace talent to the area contributed to the 2020 U.S. Censusidentifying south Alabama as one of the fastest growing regions in America. This highly-skilled talent base would construct the first phase of the LMXT tanker with the final completion and delivery occurring in Marietta, Georgia. The LMXT will be built by Americans, in America, for America.

As the aviation landscape changes, and geopolitical conflicts grow, the U.S. military deserves a tanker that works and allows America to respond to both current and future threats. It is up to Secretary Frank Kendall and his Air Force leadership to ensure all options are considered. The only way to do that is by ensuring a fair and open competition for the KC-Y aerial refueling tanker.

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Bradley Byrne is the president and CEO of the Mobile Chamber of Commerce and a former Republican congressman who represented Alabama's 1st Congressional District.

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