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A split buy for the embattled Air Force tanker?

Post by John Gillie / The News Tribune on Jan. 30, 2009 at 7:01 am with No Comments »
January 30, 2009 7:01 am

U.S. Rep. John Murtha, the head of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, was in Alabama Thursday talking about the possibility of dividing the politically radioactive Air Force tanker deal between Boeing and its Euro-U.S. rival Northrop Grumman/EADS.

Murtha toured the site of a proposed Northrop Grumman/EADS aircraft plant at Mobile’s Brookley Field and talked to local civic leaders.

He hinted that the only way out of the years-long stalemate over the multi-billion dollar tanker deal may be to split the order between the rival companies.

The two companies have gone head-to-head twice now in competition with Boeing winning the first award and Northrop/Grumman winning the second.

Both awards were annulled after Boeing was found to be cheating in the first competition and the Air Force was found to be miscounting in the second.

Now the Obama administration faces the same politically unpalatable task of picking a winner again.

Pick Northrop Grumman/EADS, which planes to use Airbus’ A330 passenger plane as the basis for the 179 tankers and you please constituents in the South where the plane will be completed. Pick Boeing, and you please constituents in the Northwest and Kansas where much of the plane will be built. The Boeing plane would be based on the Boeing 767 jet.

Then there’s the issue, of course, of picking a European-designed and built Airbus during a horrendous recession where even Boeing is laying off 10,000 workers.

Murtha’s solution may offer political appeal, but he Pentagon and Defense Secretary Robert Gates don’t like the idea of a two-plane deal. It will cost the Air Force millions more to maintain two different aircraft than just a single one.

Count U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, (D-Bremerton) among those who dislike the split. It’s all or nothing in Dicks’ book.

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