Pentagon officials acknowledged Friday their aerial refueling tanker program has stalled yet again, leaving uncertain the fate of the Air Force’s outdated fleet of more than 500 tankers.
Vying for the $35 billion contract for 179 tanker planes are the Washington-based Boeing and the Toulouse, France-based European Aeronautic Defense Space Company (EADS), though the former has threatened to withdraw from consideration if the Pentagon did not significantly alter their request for proposals (RFP) to fit the capabilities of their plane.
Among EADS’ complaints was the Pentagon’s fixed-price contract provisions, which they maintain heightens financial risk for bidders. Boeing, who is rumored will propose a tanker based on their 767 platform, however has voiced little public concern with the fixed-price approach.
Pentagon acquisitions chief Ashton Carter defended the fixed-price terms last November, when the initial RFP was released, noting that the tankers would be developed with existing technology and would not warrant substantial research and development.
For their bid which fell outside the fixed-priced terms, many suspect EADS will lose the contract to the more reasonably-priced Boeing. But EADS, to put it mildly, has been on out outs with American government officials for some time.
A September report by the World Trade Organization found that Airbus–the tanker model submitted to the Air Force by EADS–benefited from billions in illegal subsidies from the European Union and its member states. Norman Dicks, in whose district Boeing assembles its planes, insisted the Obama Administration consider the WTO’s findings in the bidding process.
“The U.S. Government cannot reward illegal market actions that have harmed U.S. manufacturers and stolen U.S. aerospace jobs,” he said.
President Barack Obama, who in recent days has reassured the American public of his resolve in creating jobs, spoke Thursday with a group of 225 mayors about his economic recovery plan. Mayor Sam Jones of Mobile, Alabama delivered to Obama a letter in which he urged the President and the Pentagon to be deliberate in awarding the contract. Striking the correct balance, he said, has the potential to create more than 100,00 American jobs.
Obama, after all, would do well to heed Jones’ advice: with the national unemployment rate dangerously hovering at 10%, concern for American jobs and workers should be chief among his priorities. France’s workforce should not even be a close second.