US Aerospace is appealing against its exclusion from the KC-X competition, on the grounds that US Air Force personnel intentionally delayed the company's messenger from submitting a bid on time.
The protest, filed on 2 August with the US Government Accountability Office, is the latest twist since US Aerospace entered the KC-X contract race shortly before the USAF's 9 July deadline, offering a twinjet-powered version of the Antonov An-70 airlifter called the An-112KC.
It is unclear whether the protest could immediately halt the USAF's source selection process for the 179-aircraft deal, which involves the Boeing KC-767 NewGen Tanker and EADS North America KC-45.
US Aerospace is offering a twinjet-powered version of the Antonov An-70 airlifter called the An-112KC
The GAO bid docket website shows that the USAF's response to US Aerospace's claims is not due until 10 November, which is two days before the KC-X contract is scheduled to be awarded.
California-based US Aerospace says in a filing with the US Securities Exchange Commission that it believes USAF personnel intentionally held up a messenger dispatched to Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio, on 9 July.
The messenger arrived at the base 30min before the 14:00 bid deadline, US Aerospace says, but was initially denied entry, given incorrect directions and finally instructed to wait for USAF personnel to meet him. Air force officials then "arbitrarily marked" the proposal as received at 14:05, or five minutes after the mandatory deadline.
"Certain air force personnel may have intentionally delayed the messenger from delivering our proposal to create a pretext for refusing to consider it because they have political issues with our eastern European supplier," US Aerospace says in the filing.
The US company was virtually unknown in the aerospace industry before signing a joint venture with Antonov on 1 July to enter the KC-X competition.
Six days later, it requested a 60-day extension to the 9 July deadline, citing the USAF's previous decision to grant such a move for EADS NA. The air force denied its request.