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Extended Interview: Air Force Gen. Ronald Fogleman

Gen. Ronald Fogleman, Air Force chief of staff from 1994 to 1997 and a Boeing consultant, offers his perspective on the Air Force's controversial decision to award Northrop Grumman the contract to build a fleet of air tankers.

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    General, was it understood … what the need was for a new tanker?

    GEN. RONALD FOGLEMAN (Ret.), Air Force chief of staff from 1994 to 1997: Well, the United States Air Force has maintained a fleet of about 550 air refueling tankers going again back to the 1950s. The reason that these tankers are so important to us is that with the end of the Cold War, the United States of America has really become an expeditionary kind of force. We end up putting people in lots of remote areas, that are very difficult to get into and so you need these tankers to extend the range of your cargo aircraft, to extend the range of your fighter aircraft, your intelligence and reconnaissance kinds of airplanes.

    Unlike most nations in the world, there are other nations that operate tankers. Saudi Arabia has tankers. They never operate them outside of their national borders. Australia has got tankers, but it's a regional kind of thing to get to the West, not a power projection, not an expeditionary kind of force, and so this country, because it is an expeditionary and becoming more and more a continental U.S.-based force, has a requirement to have this kind of capability to be able to extend the range of all these other investments that we make. And the United States Air Force provides the refueling capability also for the Navy as well. So it's not just for Air Force aircraft.


    So the contract went out, this was a big contract, 179 planes as it turned out, billions of dollars, what was the thinking? Boeing's going to get it?


    I think that, I think that the Air Force wanted very, very much to have a true competition, OK. The issue became how do you have a competition with somebody who has been experienced in the business for 55 years who has the only experience in building air refueling booms and all this, who else is there out there to compete against these people. And of course, what we ended up with was a combination of the Northrop Grumman folks teaming with EADS, Northrop Grumman is really no longer in the big airframe business so they, they partnered and this became the competition.


    What was your reaction when you learned of the decision to award Northrop Grumman EADS?


    Well, I guess I was somewhat shocked, but I think there were a lot of people who were shocked including the Northrop Grumman EADS people, but quite frankly I made a decision at that time that I was going to stay neutral on the issue until I saw the results of the formal debriefing that the Air Force owed to both Boeing and Northrop Grumman.

    And you know I have an operational background. I have a unique perspective I think on air refueling. Forty some years ago I was in a fighter sitting behind these things taking gas and over the years continued to refuel off of different airplanes, etc., but then at a point in my career I became a flag officer, a general officer. I became an air component commander in Korea. I was responsible for the air portion of the war plan in Korea so I really began then to understand air refueling requirements from a different perspective. That of a major commander who's got to figure out how to make these things integrate into a war plan.

    I went from there very unexpectedly to being the commander of the air mobility command which owns and operates all of our tankers. And at the same time I was dual hatted as the commander in chief of the U.S. Transportation Command, so I found myself there then interfacing with the rest of the Unified Commands and charged with the responsibility of finding places to bed down tankers when we needed them.

    And during the period of time that I was there was when we were in Somalia. We were engaged in activities in Africa, we were engaged also at that time, Saddam (Hussein in Iraq) was from time to time coming up on the net and so we would have to deploy and employ operations. So I saw it not only from the operator's standpoint, but I also saw it from the commander perspective.

    And I came to appreciate the fact that there's more to this requirement than just an airframe. And so I wanted to see what happened in terms of how were the two proposals rated and what was it that led Northrop Grumman to be selected by the Air Force.

    Now, I also came at it from a different perspective once I saw the debriefing. In my retired life, like a lot of retired generals, I sit on corporate boards of major corporations in America, and I have come to have an appreciation for the responsibility of management, corporate leadership in terms of its fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders, and so when the decision was announced, I just said look, I have no comment. I will wait and see what comes out of this.

    After the Air Force had debriefed the Boeing folks, I was invited to come in and sit down and get a summary of what that debrief was. And I was shocked at that point. I mean when I saw the debrief then I couldn't believe the decision that had been made. I did not understand how the decision could have been made the way it was given the, you know, just going down the scores, the grading, what the requirement was and how the decision turned out.

    So when the Boeing company, when they look at this thing and they saw the same data, you know boy people do not protest these decisions over frivolous things and quite frankly the Boeing company had a fiduciary responsibility in my view to do this protest once they saw, I mean this is a big contract. That's one thing, but it's also been a large part of the Boeing company's business in the past and it's going to be a large part of somebody's business going forward.

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