The stakes are high in declaring a
winner of the lucrative U.S. Air Force KC-X tanker contract. Boeing
and Northrop-EADS have been battling it out for years and there have
been numerous threats to walk out, cries
of favoritism, and claims
of biased specifications.
Now, however, Boeing is going with its
own "shock and awe" campaign, stating that giving the
contract to EADS (Northrop has since dropped
out of the race entirely) would be a national
security risk. Although EADS would be directing a potential KC-45
tanker program courtesy of its 1,700-employee strong EADS North
America subsidiary, Boeing contends that a bulk of development of the
aircraft will take place in Europe.
Boeing notes that some of its own
weapons systems have been hampered because "foreign-owned
companies have withheld material goods and support.” Tim Keating,
Boeing's Senior VP for government operations, goes on to say, "What
would happen if this were a tanker? Could they and would they
withhold spare parts and aircraft to impose state policy against the
U.S., and what recourse do we have?"
It should come as no surprise that EADS
was quick to refute Boeing's claims. "Boeing's ongoing
misinformation campaign is an attempt to make this competition about
anything other than getting the best tanker for the Air Force,"
said EADS spokesperson James Darcy. "We're proud that the
Department of Defense has previously selected us as a trusted U.S.
prime contractor, and we're proud of the 48,000 Americans on our
tanker team who will build the KC-45."
The KC-45 is based on Airbus' existing
A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport
(MRTT) which is already in flight testing.
A Boeing exec who wished to remain
anonymous recently stated that his company could
pull out of the bidding process. "Jim doesn't want to be in
a position that we are going to bid a losing bid. It gets difficult
when you're dealing with a competitor who has flat-out said on
several occasions that they're going to underbid us," said the
unnamed Boeing exec. “How can they do that if the list price of
their plane is higher than the list on our plane? Because they are
subsidized and we're a for-profit company, so the question we're
asking is: How do we compete against four governments?"
Regardless of who is finally selected
for the KC-X tanker program, a replacement is sorely needed for the
aging Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker. The KC-135 has been in service with
the U.S. Air Force since 1957.