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Lockheed Supports Tanker Decision

Tuesday, 3 Jun 2008 | 11:38 AM ET
Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin

Ouch! That sound you hear was a swipe at Boeing by Lockheed Martin Chairman and CEO Bob Stevens today. Lockheed is the nation's biggest defense contractor. Boeing is second. Stevens, speaking at a defense conference in Brussels, says protectionism is bad, open competition is good, and companies which depend on government regulations to keep out foreign competitors will grow weaker until they are "protected to death."

Lockheed even took the unusual step of putting these sentiments in a press release. "Stevens pointed to the recent decision by the Air Force to purchase tankers from a team of Northrop Grumman and EADS as reinforcing the openness of U.S. markets," the release says.

That would be the tanker decision Boeing lost, the decision it's challenging, the one it claims potentially puts our "warfighters" (the most overused consultant-generated word of the era) in harm's way by putting them in an Airbus, which is not American. Even though Northrop Grumman --which is American--is the lead contractor, and the planes will eventually be constructed in Alabama--which is in America.

Stevens points to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as being a "flagship program for international cooperation." Interesting he did not mention the VH-71. Long before Northrop Grumman teamed up with Airbus to go for the tanker deal, Lockheed Martin teamed with European helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland to win the new Presidential helicopter contract. Now called the VH-71, the winners of the Marine One deal beat out long-time American manufacturer Sikorsky, a blow to parent company United Technologies (UTX). But the VH-71 program has been plagued by more cost overruns and delays than Kevin Costner's "Waterworld," and Congress froze funding until it's convinced the program is back on track. International cooperation is great, but can the thing fly?

Let's hope the new tanker has fewer problems getting off the ground. Of course, protectionism is a two-way street. EADS aircraft are price competitive partly because they're financed with government help. In fact, one entry in the TAnchorman blog contest for the new tanker's nickname is the "Flying Subsidy."

Meantime, some of you are having trouble linking to the pro-Northrop/EADS blog on the tanker I mentioned the other day. Hmmm... Here it is again.

Questions? Comments? Funny Stories? Email funnybusiness@cnbc.com

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  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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