Gregoire, other governors, in DC pushing for Boeing tanker



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Posted on February 22, 2010 at 5:09 PM

Updated Monday, Feb 22 at 6:56 PM

SEATTLE -  When writing about Boeing and the battle to win the tanker contract to replace the aging fleet of KC-135s, one always has to ask, "Where do I begin?"

At the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Washington state Gov. Chris Gregoire announced the launch of a bi-partisan coalition of governors to push for Boeing-built refueling tankers. It's called the U.S. Tanker 2010 Coalition, and other states represented include Oregon, Kansas, Connecticut, Maine, Utah, Illinois, Missouri and Iowa - all states with a stake in the outcome, mostly as suppliers of parts.

"Together, we are going to make it known we're going to fight for this work," Gregoire said Monday.

Washington leads the pack because the airframe for the 767 - the tanker Boeing's bid would be based on - is built in Everett. Or, the Pentagon could ask for a bigger jet based on the 777, also assembled in Everett.

Whatever the Pentagon asks for, the competition's tanker is based on the Airbus 330. U.S. defense contractor Northrop Grumman has partnered with Airbus parent company EADS to assemble the jets in a factory to be constructed in Alabama. Other versions of the tanker are built in France for several U.S. allies, including Australia. 

The Pentagon is expected to release its "RFP" or Request For Proposal Tuesday.

Gov. Gregoire and the coalition claims that buying the Boeing tanker would preserve or create 40,000 to 50,000 U.S. jobs, but the governor's office had no specific job numbers for Washington state. But clearly, the numbers are in the thousands.

But does Boeing have the deal in the bag already? Two years ago, confidence in Boeing's bid was dashed when the Pentagon announced it would buy the Airbus-based tanker. Much of the rationale which Air Force procurement officers pointed to was the extra carrying capacity for troops, medical evacuation and cargo the A330 had over the 767. The A330 is a much bigger plane. Feeling hoodwinked, Boeing protested the award to the Government Accountability Office and won.

Now the bidding is back on.

This time, the shoe may be on Boeing's foot. In its Aircraft Investment Plan announced this month, the Pentagon said it was placing less of an emphasis on so called "secondary capabilities, such as airlift, communications support and aeromedical evacuations" - at least not in the short term.

On his Web site, Leeham and Co. Analyst Scott Hamilton wrote that the Pentagon's statement, "...might give a hint about the outcome of the KC-X procurement --and doesn't look good for Northrop Grumman." 

Northrop Grumman has threatened to back away from bidding if the RFP seems to favor Boeing. On Tuesday, they'll get their first official look at it.