Northrop Grumman
Northrop Grumman complains that the Air Force's new requirements for a smaller tanker need to be adjusted

Just when things had seemingly died down in the saga surrounding the replacement for the U.S. Air Force's aging KC-135 tankers, another spark is giving the controversy more life. The last time DailyTech addressed the ongoing battle between Northrop Grumman and Boeing, it was determined that the decision on a replacement tanker could take another five years.

Now, Reuters is reporting that Northrop Grumman is threatening to boycott the competition altogether. In a move that was similar to Boeing's cries for concessions on the competition back in August 2008, Northrop Grumman is too asking or changes to be made to the program to suit its needs.

Northrop President Wes Bush feels that his company is providing the best possible platform for the tanker program with its Airbus A330-based KC-45A aircraft. However, changes to the program now make Northrop Grumman's bid financially unsuitable for the company.

"The department's responses to date to our submitted questions suggest that the department is not planning to substantially address our concerns in the final release of the RFP (request for proposals)," said Bush in a letter to Defense Undersecretary Ashton Carter. "As a result, I must regrettably inform you that, absent a responsive set of changes in the final RFP, Northrop Grumman has determined that it cannot submit a bid to the department for the KC-X program."

According to Bloomberg, Northrop's main complaint centers around the fact that changes in the program now favor a smaller tanker than the the Airbus A330 airframe that Northrop Grumman has already submitted. When Northrop Grumman initially won the competition, Air Force Gen. Arthur Lichte praised the KC-45A design, stating that it offered "more passengers, more cargo, more fuel to offload, more patients that we can carry, more availability, more flexibility and more dependability."

The decision to now go with a smaller airframe is likely due to Boeing's complaints that resulted in the restart of the competition in September.

Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) had harsh words for the Air Force -- Shelby is naturally upset as a Northrop Grumman win would have meant a new aircraft assembly plant in Alabama. "The draft request for proposals is practically a sole source contract to Boeing,” exclaimed Shelby. “It’s a sham.  If the Air Force wants a true competition - one that aims to procure the best product for our warfighter -- it must fundamentally alter the current framework.”

For its part, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman tried to stay diplomatic in the light of the recent statements, saying, “The Department regrets that Northrop Grumman and Airbus have taken themselves out of the tanker competition and hope they will return when the final request for proposals is issued.”

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