Decision on Refueling Tanker to Come This Week?

Boeing and EADS submitted final revised proposals to the Air Force earlier this month for $35 billion contract.

The final chapter of a nearly decade-long transatlantic drama soon may be coming to a close.

U.S. Department of Defense Comptroller Robert Hale, during a Feb. 14 briefing on the agency's fiscal 2012 budget request, said the Pentagon will pick a winner in the KC-X aerial refueling tanker competition "within a month or so."

Some media outlets are reporting that the verdict could come as early as this week.

Chicago-based Boeing Co. and Netherlands-based EADS NV, the parent company of Airbus, are fighting for an approximately $35 billion contract to replace the Air Force's aging fleet of aerial refueling tankers. The Air Force's current fleet of Boeing KC-135 tankers dates back to the Eisenhower days.

Boeing is proposing to build a fleet of its "NewGen" 767s, while EADS is proposing to build a fleet of A330-based KC-45s. The two aerospace giants submitted revised final bids Feb. 10, at the request of the Air Force, and fired a last round of salvos at one another.

Boeing asserted that its proposal will save U.S. taxpayers "up to $36 billion in lifecycle costs" compared with the EADS proposal.

"Our NewGen tankers will be built using a proven low-risk, inline manufacturing approach similar to the highly successful 737-based Navy P-8A, by an already trained and highly experienced U.S. workforce at existing Boeing facilities that have delivered more than 2,000 tankers and 1,000 commercial 767s," said Jim Albaugh, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

EADS, meanwhile, asserted in a news release that the aircraft and refueling systems proposed by Boeing "have never been built, flown or tested."

"We're offering a real aircraft that has proven what it can do for our men and women in uniform, not asking the Air Force and U.S. taxpayers to take a huge gamble on an airplane that only exists on paper," said Ralph Crosby Jr., chairman of EADS North America.

Funding Uncertainty Should Not Affect Program

Hale said the Defense Department is asking for $900 million for KC-X tankers in its fiscal 2012 budget request.

He also said he did expect the uncertainty surrounding the defense budget -- the DOD has been operating under a continuing resolution for nearly half a year -- to have any impact on funding the KC-X program.

"If we are under a [continuing resolution] -- and I hope we're not -- then the Air Force would have to reprioritize within its [research, development, test and evaluation] funding in order to find the money for the initial contract," Hale said. "But I think they will do that, so I don't anticipate the [continuing resolution] will affect the KC-X contract award."

The protracted tanker bidding has been full of twists and turns, including several contract awards that have been reversed. The Defense Department last awarded the contract to a joint proposal from Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman and EADS in 2008, but Boeing's protest persuaded the agency to launch a new bidding competition.

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