Some Alabama officials have accused the Pentagon of caving in to political and industry pressure by postponing an Air Force tanker contract that could bring a giant assembly plant to our state. Obviously, Alabama will lose about 1500 good paying jobs if the contract isn’t awarded. It seems pretty clear that the Department of Defense has an urgent military need that should be met as soon as possible. In my opinion, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Bush White House have some explaining to do on this deal. Gates says the bidding should start over because it couldn’t be completed before George W. Bush leaves office. It sure looks like the Bush Administration wants Boeing to get the contract for political reasons and it has a Dick Cheney-Karl Rove-like smell. The awarding of this contract should be a non-political process carried out by the career professionals in the military and not one made for political or financial gain.
The massive contract — worth $35 billion initially and possibly three times that amount in future years — has drawn close scrutiny from Congress. Air Force officials, who should know, say replacing the current Eisenhower-era tanker fleet is an urgent priority. As you know, Boeing Co. is competing for the work against an international team that includes Northrop Grumman Corp. and the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co., the parent of Airbus. The Northrop team would assemble its planes at Mobile’s Brookley Field Industrial Complex. After years of delays, the Air Force awarded the contract to the Northrop team in February. But for some reason the Pentagon reopened the competition in July after a protest by Boeing was upheld by government auditors who ruled that the bidding favored Northrop.
It’s been revealed that Northrop Grumman Corp.’s bid for the U.S. Air Force tanker contract was almost $3 billion cheaper than the offer from Boeing Co. John Young, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition at the Pentagon, told the Washington Post in an article published on September 18th that Northrop offered to produce the first 68 tankers under a 179-plane contract for a cost of $12.5 billion. Boeing’s offer was $15.4 billion. That’s an average of about $184 million per plane for Northrop, compared to about $226 million apiece for Boeing. Young said the difference was notable because Northrop’s KC-45 tanker is a larger and more versatile aircraft than the KC-767 offered by Boeing.
When he put the project on hold, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Pentagon would focus on only a handful of contested points and finish the procurement within six months. But Boeing and its Capitol Hill allies loudly protested, arguing that Boeing could not fairly compete under such constraints, and threatened to quit the competition. This sure smells like politics to me!
Source: Associated Press
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