Northrop Grumblin’ threatens to quit

The Air Force is running an open and fair contest to replace its aging fleet of aerial refueling tankers, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told Congress today.

But while the Defense Secretary says the Pentagon will listen to the complaints made by Northrop Grumblin’ and Airbus’ team of Mobile Minions, the Defense Department refuses to to be pressured into re-writing the rules to favor the larger Airbus jet.

One of the leading minions, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Airbus), quizzed Gates during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday. Sessions represents Alabama, where Airbus and its partner, Northrop Grumman, have proposed building a factory in which an all-new workforce would attempt to modify Airbus A330s into viable tankers. Gates told him that the Pentagon is committed to running a “fair and highly transparent process” and added that the RFP (Request for Proposal) has been “even-handed.”

His comments echoed what one of his spokesmen had said the day before: “The department cannot and will not change the warfighting requirements for the tanker to give advantage to either competitor.”

This latest round of saber-rattling — which duplicates Nothrop Grumman’s successful 2007 threats   — has frayed some nerves inside the Beltway. But most insiders don’t take Northrop’s grumblin’ seriously, given that the tanker deal could end up being the largest Pentagon contract of all time.

The question, says Leeham Co. analyst Scott Hamilton, is whether the Air Force wants to buy tankers or some sort of big Swiss Army knife of an aircraft that could haul cargo, personnel and fuel — but do none of the tasks as well as aircraft specifically designed to do each job. If what the Air Force wants is a jet that can refuel warplanes, than the answer is clear, Hamilton says: Buy Boeing.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray issued a statement mocking Airbus for trying to tilt the competition in its favor. “The Air Force and the Pentagon shouldn’t be fooled by Airbus’ tricks.  It’s time to move forward with a fair and transparent competition based on the needs of our military, not the bullying of an illegally subsidized foreign competitor,” she said.

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3 Responses to “Northrop Grumblin’ threatens to quit”
  1. Scott Hamilton says:

    “If what the Air Force wants is a jet that can refuel warplanes, than the answer is clear, Hamilton says: Buy Boeing.”

    Just a minor point of clarification: What I say is if ALL the USAF wants is “just” a tanker, buy Boeing. If it wants a Multi-Role Tanker Transport, buy the KC-30.

  2. Dan Mereness says:

    I maybe biased, but as a Boeing company employee, I ask the question, why?

    Why would anyone consider a “modified” plane when we (Boeing) already have several of these 767 tankers in service now.

    Boeing tankers are ALREADY tried and true.

    Also, being the economy is crap, throw that money into a “plan” that will put money into the economy and have something to show for it, instead of bailing out some financial institution and then giving bonuses to these executives.

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  1. […] The 767 line in Everett is going to move at some point, to the back of the factory, making way for the second 787 surge line. When it does move, Boeing plans to upgrade the production process that’s been in place since the ’80s. The venerable ‘Six-Seven continues to snag orders, and District 751 members are churning out about one a month — which Hamilton believes will increase to two a month by 2011. The program’s long-term future very much depends on whether Boeing lands the U.S. Air Force tanker deal. […]



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