Air tanker deal to be reopened

17 September 2009

18 September 2009 | Allie Anderson

The US Air Force is to reopen a tender to build aircraft tankers after the original contract was cancelled last year, defence secretary Robert Gates announced this week.

A draft request for proposals is "close to release" and will be presented to interested suppliers "in ample time for discussion". It follows more than a year of delays and supplier wrangling over the original deal.

The $35 billion (£21.2 billion) contract to build 179 refuelling planes was awarded to Northrop Grumman and its European partner EADS in February 2008, sparking an official complaint from close contender Boeing (news, 13 March 2008).

US politicians were also up in arms because a win for Boeing would have created domestic jobs.

An investigation by the US Government Accountability Office upheld Boeing's protest on the grounds that the procurement process contained "significant errors".

The Air Force was found to have conducted "misleading and unequal" discussions with Boeing and evaluated the competing bids incorrectly. When the bid was re-examined, Boeing's had the lowest total lifecycle cost and the deal was scrapped in September.

Announcing the return of the tanker programme at the Air Force Association Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition in Washington this week, Gates said: "I don't need to belabour the importance of getting this done soon and done right, and my office will continue to have a robust oversight role."

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