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Sat, Mar 01, 2008

Lawmakers From Washington, Kansas React To KC-X Decision

Boeing Supporters Vow To Ask "Tough Questions" About Choice

It barely took an hour after the Pentagon announced its choice for the US Air Force KC-X tanker bid, before lawmakers aligned with the loser spoke out vehemently against the decision.

As ANN reported in Real Time Friday afternoon, the team comprised of Northrop Grumman and European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS) was awarded the $40 billion contract, over the bid submitted by American planemaker Boeing. Under terms of the deal, Northrop/EADS will supply the Air Force with 179 KC-45A aerial refueling tankers, based on the Airbus A330 commercial airliner.

Sue Payton, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, noted the larger EADS/Northrop offering was the stronger contender in several areas.

"Northrop Grumman clearly provided the best value to the government," Payton said, adding the Airbus-allied group's plane earned superior marks for mission capability, past performance and in several other categories.

Proponents of the KC-767, on the other hand, had touted that aircraft as the better alternative, due to its smaller size -- allowing the Air Force to place more tankers on the ramp than the larger Airbus-sourced plane. The KC-767 was also substantially cheaper.

Many analysts and lawmakers had pegged Boeing's KC-767 as the winner, to the point Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson's office issued a statement Friday congratulating Boeing as the winner, according to Reuters. It was quickly retracted.

Lawmakers from Washington and Kansas -- states closely aligned with Boeing, and home to plants that would have benefitted greatly from a Boeing win -- reacted swiftly to the news... and they weren't pleased.

Kansas Representative Todd Tiahrt (above) vowed to seek a review of the decision "at the highest levels of the Pentagon and Congress," with the hope of reversing the choice.

"I am deeply troubled by the Air Force's decision to award the KC-X tanker to a French company that has never built a tanker in its history," he said. "We should have an American tanker built by an American company with American workers. I cannot believe we would create French jobs in place of Kansas jobs."

The Congressional delegation from Seattle said they were "outraged" by the choice. "We are outraged that this decision taps European Airbus and its foreign workers to provide a tanker to our American military," said a joint statement from Washington Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and with six other lawmakers from the area. "We will be asking tough questions about the decision to outsource this contract. We look forward to hearing the Air Force's justification."

Predictably, lawmakers from Alabama -- where EADS vowed to locate the final assembly plant for the KC-45A, as well as the upcoming Airbus A330-200 Freighter, if it was selected the KC-X winner -- were quite pleased with the Pentagon's decision.

"We are so very excited about having the opportunity to help the Air Force acquire the most modern and capable refueling tanker -- a tanker assembled in America -- by Americans," said Alabama Congressman Jo Bonner.

"I thought all along that the Northrop Grumman-EADS proposal was the best," Alabama Senator Richard Shelby told reporters, adding he understood the disappointment from Boeing supporters.

"If Boeing had won this contract ... I would have been concerned about it," Shelby admitted.



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