USA reopens tanker contest


US defence officials have rewound the clock on tanker modernisation plans by almost three years, promising to take competitive bids on a contract long-presumed to be firmly in Boeing's grasp.

In a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz called off demands by House lawmakers for the Pentagon to move forward on a sole-source contract to purchase 100 Boeing 767 tankers, a deal clouded by one of the worst acquisition scandals in years.

The pending competition sets the stage for EADS to make its boldest play yet in the prized North American defence market. A win for the Airbus A330-200 would establish a major manufacturing and employment footprint in the US market - two key sources of political leverage.

In recent weeks, EADS officials have disclosed plans for building a $600 million manufacturing facility for air tanker final assembly in Columbus, Mississippi, adjoining a Eurocopter factory. Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman officials, meanwhile, have refused to rule out the idea of forming a partnership on a tanker bid.

The US Air Force is rapidly defining its options. The aerial refuelling portion of a mobility capability study is close to determining the baseline requirements for the refuelling fleet. Those results will be aligned with the conclusions of a nearly complete analysis of alternatives (AOA) study.

The AOA is focused on assessing multiple options for replacing about 130 of the oldest Boeing KC-135Es, including re-engining or refurbishing old aircraft. Developing a new tanker is an option, as is buying commercial derivatives such as the A330 or 767.


Stephen Trimble / Washington Dc


Source: Flight International