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Air Force Tanker Program: The Saga Continues

Almost two years ago, the Department of Defense shocked the defense aerospace world when it announced that a partnership between Northrop-Grumman and EADS had beaten the Boeing company to win the coveted Air Force KC-X Refueling Tanker contract, estimated at the time to be worth up to $40B.  Since then, that contract has been protested by Boeing, cancelled, and re-opened for new bidding.  In December, Northrop threatened to withdraw from bidding, complaining that the leaked details of the forthcoming Request for Proposals (RFP) called for a smaller aircraft than the previous RFP (which Northrop won) and favored Boeing.  Suffice it to say that the program, which is arguably the Department of Defense’s second-highest acquisiton priority (second to the F-35), is a complete mess.

Northrop has now received the official RFP, and the company argues that the request has not departed enough from the December draft RFP to satisfy its concerns of unfairness.  Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who had called the December RFP a “stunning change” from the previous RFP, described this week’s RFP as “disappointing.”  Should Northrop win the contract, it plans to build a massive manufacturing plant in Mobile, AL.  Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA), who succeeds Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) as Chairman of the House Appropriations Defense panel, was unsurprisingly optimistic about the RFP details.  Boeing is based in Washington state.

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