Pentagon Delays Tanker Contract

By John Shryock - bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - After a long battle between Boeing Corporation and Northrop Grumman EADS to win an estimated $35 billion tanker refueling contract, the Pentagon made the decision to postpone the bidding process Wednesday.

Governor Bob Riley reacted strongly to the decision saying, "I strongly disagree with this decision and find it absolutely bewildering. The Air Force has been trying for six years now to replace its aging fleet of tankers. Yet another delay does nothing except put our war fighters at greater risk. For that reason alone, I can't understand why anyone would make this decision."

Governor Riley's reaction mirrored that of other Alabama leaders including Democratic Congressman Artur Davis and Republican Senator Jeff Sessions.

"Outside pressure tactics that sought to politicize a military decision have won," said Davis. "By pushing this decision into the uncertainty of a new administration, Secretary Gates has rewarded the political gamesmanship and distortions that have marred the selection of a new tanker."

Northrop Grumman EADS initially won the contract and was set to start building a plant near Mobile that would churn out some 147 large tankers, but Boeing Corporation claimed the bidding process was unfair. After the Government Accountability found faults with the decision the Pentagon decided to re-open bidding on the contract with hopes of determining a winner by year's end.

"While the Department may have found some legitimacy to Boeing's request for more time, such a determination does not justify canceling the contract or punting the selection to the next administration," said Senator Sessions. "Acquisition officials have worked hard to address the narrow procedural problems identified by the GAO, and abandoning this process now only throws the competition further into a state of confusion. "

"At some point, we have to say we are going to put our war fighters first - not the suppliers, not politics," Governor Riley said.

Riley also added, "I still agree with the statement Secretary Gates made at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base on April 21 when he said:  'All I can say is that I think it would be a real shame if the tanker were to get delayed yet again.  We're long past due in terms of getting on with this program.'"

Northrop Grumman vice president Brandon Belote, III, released a statement after the decision came down saying the company was disappointed with the news. "Northrop Grumman entered this competition in good faith and proposed the most modern, most capable tanker available, at the best value to the American taxpayer. While we understand the complexities of this procurement, we are greatly concerned about the potential future implications for the defense acquisition process."

A response from Boeing has not yet been issued.

WSFA 12 News will have the latest information on this developing story as it becomes available.