Is outpouring of French whine linked to A400M?

Motley Fool writer Rich Smith is suggesting that the high-level Euro-trashing of the U.S. Air Force tanker bidding process is intended to put pressure on the U.S. government to place orders for the EADS-built A400M transport.

As aerospace industry analysts Scott Hamilton and Richard Aboulafia have said, European leaders have no “legal leg to stand on in this dispute,” Smith wrote. 

“Even if the Pentagon did draft the revised KC-X specs in a manner that favored the smaller Boeing 767-based design over Northrop-EADS’ A330 derivative offered … so what? It had every right to do so,” he continued. “The idea that a contractor like Northrop can tell its customer what kind of plane it must buy is patently absurd. And the concept of one sovereign nation dictating to another how it should equip its military? Even more so.”

But that hasn’t stopped French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown — among others — from attacking the Pentagon over alleged “protectionism.”

So what gives? Smith says he suspects we saw the real reason behind the heated bid-bashing when EADS defense unit chief Domingo Urena said last week that he plans to sell 210 A400Ms to the U.S. Air Force.

The chances of the Pentgon ordering that many A400Ms — or even any– is incredibly slim. The USAF only has 192 C-17 Cargomaster IIIs, for example (with 13 more on order), and there’s an annual battle in Congress over whether that’s enough or if the Air Force needs more. So 210 seems an out-of-reach target.

But if European heads of state can make a big enough issue of the tanker, Smith suggests, that might push Congress and the Obama administration to see if it can “find an argument to justify taking a few A400M’s off EADS’ hands in a gesture of goodwill.”

Any foreign sales of the troubled A400M would be a big help to EADS, and if Congress can head off a trade war in the defense industry by buying a few jets, it might be worth it, Smith wrote. “After all, war may be politics by other means. But politics is itself the art of compromise.”

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