United Launch Alliance is launching a new advertising campaign responding to its ongoing dispute with Elon Musk and SpaceX, Defense Daily reports.
Today, the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture, which SpaceX has accused of colluding with the Air Force to prevent outside competition on contracts for 36 upcoming government rocket launches, revealed advertising materials that directly address the controversy and a related lawsuit.
As Aaron Mehta reported for Defense Daily, ULA has "stopped being polite," and plans on running this advertisement:
#ula going all in with a new ad campaign to combat #spacex claims. Says first in series. pic.twitter.com/gfTfwZEVuN— Aaron Mehta (@AaronMehta) June 18, 2014
Mehta spoke to ULA president and CEO Michael Gass, who said the ads weren't exactly intended for the public writ large, admitting:
... that the real targets of the ads aren’t the basic public, but the “the influencers of the launch vehicle strategies and propulsion strategies … They get influenced by public opinion so it’s important we make sure the public has the appropriate information.”
This quote, and the ad itself, highlight one of the crucial differences between ULA and SpaceX.
ULA understands how the federal procurement process works, and it's adept at calibrating its activities for the needs and expectations of its most important client – the U.S. government. The company's record and experience with government contracting has emerged as one of its leading talking points — even though SpaceX's legal arguments and lobbying efforts largely have to do with the process by which ULA obtained its 36 launch contracts, which is a somewhat different issue.
By contrast, SpaceX is a startup. In Musk, it has a highly-visible founder, who does things like openly speculate about future commercial missions to Mars, and make corruption accusations in front of over 1 million Twitter followers. SpaceX aslo has an aggressive outreach strategy and public profile that ULA can't match. However, SpaceX is still a relative newcomer to the insular and highly complex world of defense contracting.
Gass told Mehta the general public hadn't really heard of ULA before the SpaceX lawsuit. But Gass understands that for the purposes of getting future government contracts, that might not really matter.
As Twitter user Rick Berger pointed out, this ad isn't the only recent instance of a defense contractor using U.S. troops' safety as an argument against a specific rival's practices or technologies. In May, Politico reported BAE was accusing General Dynamics of waging a "'campaign of misinformation’ by advocating a plan" for the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMVP) program "that puts ‘profits ahead of soldiers’ lives.’"
BAE responded by circulating an information paper alleging, "Further reduction of the AMPV mobility requirements ... would put our soldiers’ lives at risk." The paper also accused General Dynamics of affecting a cutback in quality standards in order to undersell BAE.
Still, while ULA's ads may not have been intended for public consumption, the SpaceX-ULA dispute is far less obscure than the battle between BAE and General Dynamics. And ULA's new ad shows that the companies are more than willing to fight this out in public.
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