Boeing on Tuesday said it wants the Air Force to immediately explain why it awarded a $35 billion aerial refueling tanker contract to rival...

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WASHINGTON — Boeing on Tuesday said it wants the Air Force to immediately explain why it awarded a $35 billion aerial refueling tanker contract to rival European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. and its partner, Northrop Grumman.

Boeing, which has been supplying air-to-air refueling tankers to the Air Force for nearly 50 years and was widely expected to win the deal, will not decide whether to protest the decision until it is debriefed by the Air Force.

The Air Force planned a March 12 debriefing, according to Boeing. An Air Force spokeswoman said she did not know whether the timing has changed.

By awarding the contract to Europe-based EADS and Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman, the Air Force has touched off a furor in Congress, provoking questions about why a foreign company would receive such a high-stakes deal. The response has been strongest from lawmakers whose states stood to gain jobs had Boeing won the deal.

The contract to build up to 179 tankers is the first of three Air Force awards worth as much $100 billion to replace its entire refueling tanker fleet over the next 30 years.

“It’s important for us to understand how the Air Force reached their conclusion,” Mark McGraw, a Boeing vice president, said in a statement. “The questions we are asking, as well as others being raised about this decision, can best be answered with a timely debrief indicating how our proposal was graded.”

Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, both Democrats from Washington, and Sens. Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts, both Republicans from Kansas, were among the lawmakers who sent a letter to top Pentagon officials also requesting an Air Force briefing this week.

Boeing would have performed much of the tanker work in Everett, Wash., and Wichita, Kan., and used Pratt & Whitney engines built in Connecticut. The company says a win would have supported 44,000 new and existing jobs at Boeing and more than 300 suppliers in more than 40 states.

The EADS/Northrop Grumman team plans to perform its final assembly work in Mobile, Ala., although the underlying plane would mostly be built in Europe. It would use General Electric engines built in North Carolina and Ohio. Northrop Grumman, of Los Angeles, estimated a Northrop/EADS win would produce 2,000 new jobs in Mobile and support 25,000 jobs at suppliers nationwide.

Two top Air Force acquisition officials, Sue Payton and Lt. Gen. John L. “Jack” Hudson, are scheduled to testify about the contract before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense on Wednesday.

And officials with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents Boeing workers, are calling for Congress to pass legislation barring the Pentagon from awarding contracts to foreign companies that receive “anticompetitive” subsidies. The U.S. Trade Representative has filed a complaint against the European Union with the World Trade Organization charging the EU with providing unfair subsidies to EADS subsidiary Airbus for large civil aircraft.

In the Boeing statement, McGraw responded to reports that the Air Force concluded that the Boeing tanker was the higher-risk option.

“Northrop and EADS are two companies that will be working together for the first time on a tanker, on an airplane they’ve never built before, under multiple management structures, across cultural, language and geographic divides,” he said. “We do not understand how Boeing could be determined the higher risk offering.”