The Boeing Co., whose KC-767 air tanker lost out in the contest for the $35 billion contract to Northrop Grumman and the European Aerospace and Defence and Space Co.'s KC-45A air tanker, has protested the deal and requested the U.S. Government Accountability Office to undertake an investigation.
The controversy on Capitol Hill crosses party lines but follows an otherwise predictable pattern. Congressmen and senators from states where Boeing and its industry partners who would have been involved in the program are furious at the decision. States where Northrop Grumman and its partners have plants, or can be expected to build or expand them, are all for it.
Boeing corporate officials and spokesmen have been outspoken in their criticism of the way the deal was awarded. But Northrop Grumman has hit back in championing the merits of the aircraft it will be building with EADS.
"The KC-45A competition underwent the most rigorous, fair and transparent acquisition process in Defense Department history," Northrop Grumman said. "Throughout the process, both competitors in the KC-45A acquisition hailed the Air Force for conducting a fair and open competition."
"The size of the proposed tanker aircraft was not dictated by the Air Force nor was size an established criteria -- each contractor was free to propose the best solution and platform to meet Air Force war fighter requirements," Northrop Grumman said.
"Both contractors had ample opportunity in the protracted acquisition and source selection process to propose the best aerial refueling capability to meet the war fighter's requirements," the company said.
Northrop Grumman also said the new KC-45A air tanker was already a tested and reliable aircraft, unlike the KC-767.
Northrop Grumman said its first KC-45A tanker aircraft "was built in July 2007 and flown in September 2007." The company said the KC-45A's Aerial Refueling Boom System had already "completed 73 test flights totaling more than 200 flight hours."
"The boom completed the first in-flight fuel transfer on Feb. 29, 2008 passing 2,000 pounds of fuel to a Portuguese Air Force F-16 combat aircraft," the company said.
Northrop Grumman also said the KC-45A was "based upon the Royal Australian Air Force KC-30B Multirole Tanker -- which has been built, flown, and is undergoing flight tests. It will be delivered on schedule to the Royal Australian Air Force in early 2009."
"Boeing's proposed KC-767AT tanker and refueling boom were never built, flown or tested," Northrop Grumman said.
Northrop Grumman further claimed that its KC-45A tanker assembly program "will create a new aerospace manufacturing corridor in the southeastern United States."
"The KC-45A program helps return competitiveness to the U.S. aerospace industry," the company said.
Boeing said if it had been given the contract, it would have created 44,000 jobs across the United States. Northrop Grumman originally said its program for the KC-45A would create 25,000 jobs. But this week, it announced that in fact 48,000 jobs would be created.
It must be said that this last claim appears unlikely. Under the Boeing program, much more work would have been done on manufacturing the aircraft in the United States. Under the Northrop Grumman program, EADS would actually build most of the primary parts of the aircraft which are, after all, adapted versions of the Airbus A-300, in plants across Europe. Those parts would then be shipped to a new plant yet to be built in Alabama where they would then be assembled.
Next: Assessing the aircraft