labels: Boeing, EADS, Northrop Grumman, News reports, Military aircraft, US Air Force
USAF Tanker bid: Northrop/EADS set to queer the pitch for Boeing news
29 August 2008

The $35 billion-plus United States Air Force (USAF) Tanker contract has taken another turn with reports emerging that Boeing's rival consortium Northrop Grumman /EADS too is considering offering the USAF another plane even as it faces the prospect of a Pentagon-approved extension for Boeing to submit a revised bid. Through a series of twists and turns Boeing has now asked the Pentagon to give it an additional four months to respond with the design for a larger tanker than the one proposed earlier, which was based on its 767 platform.

Boeing 767 tankerAn earlier award of the contract went to the Northrop/EADS combines' offering, which is based on an Airbus 330 platform. Boeing challenged the award saying that the rationale for the decision that the A330 design was a much larger aircraft, capable of transporting more fuel and cargo over larger distances, was not a requirement of the USAF in its initial request for proposal. Their contention was upheld by an oversight committee of the US Senate necessitating a revised bid.

Boeing then claimed that the provisions of the revised bid were once again slanted in favour of the EADS product and has sought additional time to counter the proposal with a new design, threatening to walk out of the contract if this should not be possible. Since such a walkout would leave the Northrop/EDAS combine as the sole bidder, a situation designed to create trouble at the US Congress, it is likely that the Pentagon may accede to Boeing's request.

Faced with the prospect of a long wait, as Boeing goes about designing a new aircraft, the opposing Northrop/EADS consortium is now contemplating offering the USAF a different plane as well.

Company sources at Northrop are letting it be known that the company may propose that the military purchase tankers based on the A330-200 freighter made by EADS subsidiary Airbus, rather than the A330 platform. This would allow the Pentagon, as well as the consortium, to save on time and money. 

This widebody, long-haul cargo freighter was introduced by Airbus last year, too late to be offered to the USAF in the initial rounds of the bid.

Airbus A330According to industry analysts, the combination of a commercial freighter and a tanker based on the freighter, would allow economies of scale to come into operation that would make the Northrop/EADS plan of assembling the aircraft in Mobile, Alabama, even more attractive.

According to analysts, a common workforce, operational overheads as well as logistics issues would be lessened if planes from the same airframe design were built for both military and commercial customers.

Northrop says Boeing is now stalling, not just to gain time to design a tanker based on a larger commercial aircraft, but also to seek a political edge. The more things are delayed, the more likely a decision won't be made until a new US Administration and Congress step into power next year.


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USAF Tanker bid: Northrop/EADS set to queer the pitch for Boeing