Five members of Washington’s congressional delegation joined an effort to keep the Pentagon from delaying its selection the builder of the next air refueling tanker by asking Defense Secretary Robert Gates not to extend the timeline for making that choice.
Without mentioning either company by name, they are supporting the Boeing Co., and trying to close out rival Airbus.
Republican Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Doc Hastings, and Democrats Jay Inslee, Adam Smith and Rick Larsen are among 16 members of the House urging Gates not to vary from the 75-day selection deadline announced in February. Their stated reasons include eight years of delay already in replacing the KC-135s, and the additional costs to taxpayers.
The KC-135, which was designed by Boeing in the 1950s and built through the early 1960s, is the backbone of the U.S. Air Force tanker fleet and the plane flown by the 92nd Air Refueling Wing and the Washington Air National Guard’s 141st Air Refueling Wing, both based at Fairchild Air Force Base.
Finding a replacement for part of the KC-135 fleet started some nine years ago, and has been marked by fraud, collusion, political bickering and pandering, mistakes and missteps. Meanwhile, the 135s keep flying in two war zones and for a variety of other military missions around the globe.
The process to select a new tanker is a subject of intense interest, the members of Congress wrote, but “the need for new tankers is long overdue.”
A consortium that included Northrop Grumman and EADS, the manufacturer of Airbus, beat out Boeing for an estimated $40 billion contract in early 2008. That award was thrown out a few months later after Boeing protested and the Government Accountability Office found problems with the selection process. New specifications were announced in February and Boeing notified the Air Force eight days later it would enter a new bid, again using a version of its 767 jetliner.
Four days later, Northrop Grumman said it wasn’t entering the competition. In late March, however, EADS said it would submit a proposal if the deadline was extended and “there is a fair chance to win.”