It’s two against one in the high-stakes game of who gets the tanker. The Northrop Grumman/EADS team has won—the first round—the contract to produce the first batch of new aerial refueling aircraft for the Air Force, but the award ignited the proverbial firestorm. In Alabama, where the new tanker team plans to construct an assembly plant, the folks and their lawmakers are delighted. In Washington and Kansas, which lost out on thousands of jobs, Boeing workers and lawmakers express frustration and anger. USAF leaders hoped they could avoid a protest as they try to replace an aging fleet of KC-135s, but, although Boeing hasn’t tipped its hand on that score, it does want the service to speed up the debrief. In a March 4 statement, Boeing VP for 767 tanker programs Mark McGraw said, “Consistent with past practice and recent experience, we would expect this briefing to occur within days, not weeks.” The Air Force has said it would debrief Boeing on or after March 12. McGraw continued, “Given that we are already seeing press reports containing detailed competitive information, we feel that our request is more than fair and reasonable.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hasn’t taken sides, but she did say the award “raises serious questions” that lawmakers must “examine thoroughly,” including the national security implications of “using an aircraft supplied by a foreign firm for this essential mission.” Pelosi has called upon the Air Force to explain how its decision “meets the long-term needs of our military and the American people.”
In a nighttime ceremony contrived to continue concealment of many of its features, the new B-21 bomber rolled out of Northrop Grumman's Palmdale, Calif. plant Dec. 2. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the aircraft's advanced technology represents "deterrence, the American way."