Boeing pulls out all the stops in its efforts to secure a tanker win

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.

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