WASHINGTON, April 1 (UPI) -- The Pentagon says it will allow a 60-day deadline extension if European defense giant EADS officially states its intent to rebid for the U.S. Air Force tanker program.
The bid by the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. would pitch the company's A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport in the controversial competition to replace the aging U.S. Air Force KC-135.
U.S. Department of Defense spokesman Geoff Morrell said at a news conference this week that the U.S. Air Force was "willing to compress the evaluation process" of the EADS bid.
Reports of an extension for EADS were stoked from remarks made this week by French President Nicolas Sarkozy during talks in Washington with U.S. President Barack Obama.
The French president, whose country holds a 15 percent stake in EADS but has no formal say over its strategy, said EADS would rebid for the $35 billion contract provided the terms of the competition were fair.
"I said to him (Obama), I trust you; if you tell me that the tender will be fair and transparent, then EADS will bid and we trust you," Sarkozy told a news conference with Obama.
There was no mention however of any designs or intentions by the Pentagon to revise competition rules -- a move that EADS has insisted on from the start of its opposition to the bid.
In fact, Morrell ruled out any such likelihood of a revision during a news conference.
The remarks come weeks after the European firm pulled out of the contest air-refueling contest, accusing the Pentagon of revising requirements to suit the competing bid of Boeing.
The $35 billion contract concerns the supply of 179 tanker planes to the U.S. Air Force.
Northrop Grumman Corp and EADS, the parent company of Airbus, had beat Boeing in a similar race two years ago. But its winning bid was annulled after government auditors found that the Air Force has skewed its judgment rules.
The annulment sparked a diplomatic fracas with senior European officials berating the United States for what they billed as an act of protectionism.
Should EADS proceed, its North American unit will most like bid on its own or search for a partner after Northrop pulled out. It has since then said that any recast of its bid would require a 90-day extension of the bid deadline.
The EADS plane tanker A330 MRTT can load and carry more refueling supplies and travel a greater distance than its Boeing 776-based rival. What's more, a review by the U.S. Air Force in 2008 stated clear preference for the EADS model.
The Airbus model has been chosen over Boeing 767 derivatives as a tanker by Australia, Britain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in the four most recent contests, EADS said.