PARIS – Airbus’ parent company EADS said Friday it would bid with partner Northrop Grumman Corp. for a $35 billion U.S. Air Force contract even if it had to share it with archrival Boeing Co.
EADS spokesman Pierre Bayle said that European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. wants to bid for the 179-plane contract when Defense Secretary Robert Gates reopens the competition and will respect whatever format he chooses.
“We want to be there whatever the solution,” he said.
The U.S. tanker replacement program has been plagued by a series of tortuous delays, and with the current fleet of KC-135 jets entering old age, replacements are badly needed.
Some powerful lawmakers have proposed splitting the job between Chicago-based Boeing and the Northrop-EADS team to speed up production.
In September, Gates canceled the last competition – awarded to Northrop and EADS – saying he wanted to let a new administration decide the politically thorny issue.
The decision to give Northrop-EADS the contract was overturned after Boeing appealed and a congressional audit concluded the Air Force had unfairly penalized Boeing’s smaller plane.
An earlier plan to lease planes from Boeing was halted in 2003, and a top Pentagon official went to jail for favoring the Chicago-based company.
Gates plans for the Pentagon to issue guidelines for a new plane and solicit bids this summer, although a timeline has not yet been set.
Earlier this month he rejected a proposal to split the contract between the two teams, an idea pushed by Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees defense spending.
Murtha says two assembly lines could speed production to 24 planes a year. But Gates said the same could be done with just one supplier.
A Murtha spokesman said that a split contract is still an option despite Gates’ opposition.
Bayle confirmed comments by EADS CEO Louis Gallois in the New York Times that the Northrop-EADS team would consider dividing the contract with Boeing as long as EADS could build at least 12 planes annually.
Gallois said that number is needed to support building a factory in Mobile, Ala.