EADS and Northrop Grumman have dropped out of the competition to produce and supply a future tanker aircraft for the United States Air Force, it emerged on 8 March 2010.
The consortium’s decision leaves Boeing as the sole bidder for a multi-billion dollar contact for 179 new air-refuellers to replace the USAF’s KC-135 fleet.
EADs/Northrop Grumman’s announcement marked the end of a bitterly-contested series of events, the most recent of which occurred two years ago when it was declared the KC-X contract winner, only for the whole bidding process to be restarted, with new terms, after Boeing protested.
EADs – the company said in an online press release – had told the USAF and the US Defense Department that it was concerned that these new terms were significantly favourable towards Boeing.
Air Force Tanker Contract
Both EADS/Northrop Grumman and Boeing had been offering militarised adaptations of existing airliner designs for the air force tanker contract. The European/US consortium had put forward the KC-45 - an aircraft rooted in the Airbus A330 airliner - while Boeing had submitted the KC-767 Advanced Tanker, derived from the 767 airliner.
With a wingspan of just over 156 feet and a length of 159 feet, the KC-767 is substantially smaller than the KC-45: a factor referred to in the EADS press release.
“The source selection methodology clearly signals a preference for a smaller aircraft”, it said. “This is particularly disappointing given that the Air Force previously had selected the A330-based KC-45 because of its added capability, lower risk and best value. The Defense Department’s RFP [Request For Proposal] ignores the added combat capability that could be provided by the KC-45.”
EADS/ Northrop Grumman
Despite EADS and Northrop Grumman’s sentiments, a representative for the latter stressed that no plans existed to lodge a complaint. “America's service men and women have been forced to wait too long for new tankers” Wes Bush – chief executive at Northrop Grumman stated. “Taking actions that would further delay the introduction of this urgent capability would also not be acting responsibly.”
News of the withdrawal coincided with the release by Boeing of further details of its KC-767. The aircraft, Boeing said, would feature the same digital flightdeck incorporated into the brand-new 787 Dreamliner aircraft, along with revised refuelling technology.
The KC-767 development programme, Boeing added, would “...support substantially more jobs in the United States than an Airbus A330 tanker that is designed and largely manufactured in Europe.”
USAF Tanker Competition Reopens