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New Twist in Air Force Tanker Saga: Russia Enters Bid

A Russian company has announced it will enter a bid to build a new aerial refueling tanker for the U.S. Air Force.  The company, United Aircraft, is a holding company for several Russian aerospace firms.

The announcement comes as the latest in what has become a dramatic process to find a builder for the new tanker.  It comes 11 days after Northrop Grumman dropped its bid, leaving Boeing the sole bidder with a modified version of its 767 aircraft.  Northrop Grumman had teamed up with Europe-based EADS to bid on the competition.  Since the Russian bidder’s announcement, EADS has requested an extension of the original bidding deadline and is considering re-entering the competition.

The Air Force tanker replacement program has a long, complicated history.  Boeing lost a bid in 2004 to build the tanker after an ethics scandal.  In 2008, EADS won the contract, but Boeing fought back and the Pentagon re-started the process.  EADS winning bid in 2008 had drawn controversy over having a critical military aircraft built by a foreign contractor.

The Russian bid is sure to draw criticism from congressional leaders and defense industry officials.  Some have pointed to the numerous practical problems with the use of Russian equipment for this purpose, noting that spare parts and mechanical expertise  (common in the West with Boeing-built equipment) would be virtually nonexistent for a Russian aircraft.


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