Aerospatiale Matra's partnership with Lockheed Martin on an air-to-air refuelling aircraft based on an Airbus Industrie aircraft violates an exclusive agreement between Raytheon and Airbus to develop and market a militarised Airbus A310-300, Raytheon officials claim.

In April, Raytheon Systems and Airbus teamed on the A310-based Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT). They will exclusively offer Airbus aircraft with Raytheon tanker modifications in a market estimated at nearly 600 aircraft by 2010. Airbus will only support development of the Raytheon tanker modification and neither will offer their products independently, says the agreement.

Both say the Airbus executive board "with unanimous concurrence of the partners" agreed to the MRTT project, which can be extended to other Airbus models with the agreement of both parties.

Lockheed Martin and Airbus partner Aerospatiale Matra signed a memorandum of agreement (MoA) on 16 June, however, on a tanker/transport partnership based on the A340 as a possible replacement for 500 ageing Boeing KC-135s (Flight International, 23-29 June). Lockheed Martin and Aerospatiale Matra also plan to pursue opportunities for tanker modifications of other Airbus aircraft, starting with the UK's Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) competition.

Aerospatiale Matra says it has a deal with Lockheed Martin and the pair will offer a solution to the UK for its FSTA requirement.

Lockheed Martin officials insist they have a legal deal with Aerospatiale Matra. Robert Lang, vice-president for business development at Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Systems, says the two parties agreed "to diligently and exclusively pursue as a team the UK's FSTA programme".

Aerospatiale Matra/Lockheed Martin will not offer the MRTT, although its bid will probably be based on the A310.

Gerald Iverson, vice-president federal programmes at Raytheon's Greenville, Texas-based aircraft integration systems unit, believes Lockheed Martin's deal with Aerospatiale Matra is an infringement of its agreement with Airbus. "The way we read the [Lockheed Martin-Aerospatiale Matra] agreement, Aerospatiale would compete with us directly in the worldwide market. I view that as a violation of our agreement."

Each Airbus consortium member is "free to pursue business on their own. That is what it appears Aerospatiale [Matra] has elected to do with regard to Lockheed Martin," says Earl Odom, the US-based Airbus vice-president for business development. "Aerospatiale Matra thinks they have the authority [to make such a commitment]. They must feel that Airbus Industrie has given them that authority," adds Lang.

Source: Flight International