Northrop Grumman said yesterday that it will team up with the parent of European aircraft-maker Airbus to bid for a contract to build a...
LOS ANGELES — Northrop Grumman said yesterday that it will team up with the parent of European aircraft-maker Airbus to bid for a contract to build a new refueling plane for the U.S. military.
The move pits Northrop and the North American unit of European Aeronautic Defence & Space (EADS), against Boeing in a battle to build a replacement for the Air Force’s KC-135 air tanker.
“This is going to be an American airplane built for the U.S. Air Force,” said Randy Belote, a Northrop spokesman.
Boeing lost a $23.5 billion deal to make the tanker last year after information surfaced that it had hired a top Air Force acquisitions official who later admitted giving the company preferential treatment.
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The Boeing deal would have seen the Air Force buy or lease 100 Boeing 767 planes as refueling tankers. The Air Force has said it would likely reopen the tanker contract to competition, but a formal timeline has not been set.
“We have more than 75 years of experience in aerial-refueling technology. We are ready and look forward to a competition on a level playing field once the Air Force defines its requirements,” Boeing spokesman Paul Lewis said.
If awarded the contract to build the KC-30 tanker for the Air Force, Northrop said, it would be the principal contractor and EADS, which is based in France and Germany, would be the main subcontractor, supplying the aircraft to be refitted as tankers
More than 50 percent of the work to manufacture the aircraft would be done in the United States, creating more than 1,000 jobs, Northrop said.
Earlier this year, the prospect of Northrop taking a European partner was seen as highly unpopular, particularly in Congress, which was weighing a trade dispute with the European Union over allegations of illegal subsidies to Airbus and Boeing.
But the Northrop-EADS deal has been structured in a way that may make it more politically palatable on Capitol Hill, partly because Northrop is the lead partner, analysts said.
EADS gained support in Congress in June when it announced that it would build a $500 million final-assembly plant for the tanker aircraft in Mobile, Ala.
The prospect of a new aerospace plant in their state was endorsed by Alabama Republican Sens. Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby. Sessions is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Shelby is on the Senate Appropriations Committee; both committees are key to getting military programs through Congress.
And the timing of a Northrop-EADS announcement — after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to Alabama — would be likely to generate more support.
“It makes politicians look like they’re doing something good for their troubled constituency,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst for Teal Group.
But some analysts said a European aircraft manufacturer as a subcontractor might hurt Northrop’s chances for the tanker contract.
If Northrop lands the contract, “that would end up being the granddaddy of all outsourcing,” said Paul Nisbet, aerospace analyst with JSA Research in Newport, R.I.
“I don’t think the U.S. Congress or even the Department of Defense is going to be interested in subsidizing the French economy with that kind of money,” Nisbet said. “If Airbus was a [British] company, rather than predominantly French and German, I think it would be very different.”
Information from the Los Angeles Times is included in this report