Boo Hoo, BAE Systems

US Army MRAP Vehicle

Next time, figure out how to build a better truck:

To help win back a military truck contract potentially worth billions of dollars, BAE Systems Inc. has formally protested the U.S. Army's decision to pick a rival and is also calling on supportive lawmakers.

It is the latest sign of how hard defense companies will fight for work during a time of weapons-spending cutbacks and shifting Pentagon priorities.

The protest over the contract awarded to OshkoshCorp. was filed by the U.S. arm of BAE Systems PLC Friday.

The dispute shows how even smaller defense contracts are becoming major battlegrounds as U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates shakes up costly weapons programs and prioritizes spending on ground forces.

For BAE, which has made a strategic bet on the ground vehicle market and builds the current fleet of midsize trucks, the work is critical to some 3,200 jobs at its Sealy, Texas, plant. This year alone, BAE expects about $2 billion in sales to the government from the trucks, though work will wind down next year if the company is unsuccessful in its appeal.

Being an expert on military affairs, even though I've never been inclined to put on the uniform, I want my government to equip our troops with good vehicles. I want my government to do so by letting American companies bid on contracts that have the chance at saving us money. I want them to expand the number of companies that can manufacture and build things and try to innovate. I'd also like them to keep that money in the United States.

That BAE, a British company, has a plant in Texas is a great thing. But the fact that a company in Oshkosh, Wisconsin is going to be building these trucks does not cause me a great deal of pain. In fact, why not ask if the people in Sealy can relocate to Wisconsin and take their talents to that company? Why not offer a partnership that transitions BAE's manufacturing operation to the one that Oshkosh, Inc. is going to be ramping up? Why not work together to make the best possible vehicles for our military? Navistar, another company that has protested the awarding of the contract to Oshkosh, is a $9.7 billion dollar a year company--and they're grousing about $280.9 million going to another American manufacturer? Boo hoo for you, too, Navistar. Why can't you and BAE innovate and come back for the next round of contract bidding and try to do better?

Or is it about the money, and taking US taxpayer dollars to Britain or about making sure no one can compete with you in the US market? Seems to be a no-brainer to me--make good trucks, do it better than anyone else, and you should get rewarded for that. Last time I checked, we were still a capitalist society.

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