Air Force tanker decision expected Thursday

Wednesday - 2/23/2011, 1:11pm EST

By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

The DorobekINSIDER will have live coverage of the announcement at 5 p.m. Thursday.

Perhaps the third time will be the charm for the KC-X tanker replacement program.

The Air Force is expected to announce its choice for a $35 billion contract to build 179 flying tankers at a Pentagon press conference at 5 p.m. Thursday.

Federal News Radio has independently confirmed the announcement, first reported by the Business Journals citing a spokesman for Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), former chairman of the appropriations subcommittee on defense.

The Pentagon has reportedly chosen Thursday to announce the decision in order to give themselves an extra day to clarify questions about the contract award. "It wouldn't be as easy on a Saturday," said Dicks' spokesman.

While the staffer told the Business Journal he has "no specific information about whether the EADS A330-based tanker or Boeing's 767-based tanker will win," he did say he believes the Air Force will choose Boeing.

However, after a data mixup last November left EADS and Boeing with data disks containing information on each other's aircraft, Boeing was "less optimistic" about winning the contract.

The Air Force has been attempting to contract for a new refueling tanker to replace the KC-135 since 2002. That attempt came to an abrupt halt in 2005 after investigations found wrongdoing in the award to Boeing.

In 2008, the Government Accountability Office upheld Boeing's protest of the tanker contract to Northrop and EADS, saying it found "a number of significant errors" in the Air Force's decision, including its failure to fairly judge the relative merits of each proposal.

Last March, Northrop withdrew from the process, leaving EADS to continue alone.

Regardless of who is awarded the contract this time, as Federal News Radio has previously reported, it is widely expected the decision will be protested.

If Boeing wins, the air tanker would be built in Everett, Wash., Wichita, Kan., and several other states. If EADS wins, the tanker would be assembled in Mobile, Ala., at the former Brookley military base that was shuttered in the 1960s.

Either way, about 50,000 jobs would be created in the U.S.

And $35 billion could amount to a mere first installment on a $100 billion deal if the Air Force pushes ahead and buys more tankers.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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