European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., the parent of Airbus SAS, yesterday began looking for a U.S. location to build the Air Force's new fleet of refueling tankers, even though the contract hasn't yet been reopened for bids.
Plans to replace the tankers, which refuel other planes in the air, are on hold after the collapse of a deal to lease then buy the planes from Boeing Co.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld sidelined the Boeing proposal after Darleen A. Druyun, a former Air Force procurement officer, admitted showing Boeing favoritism for years and negotiating a job with it while working on the tanker deal. The Pentagon has said it would hold a competition to replace the planes, opening the door for Boeing rival Airbus to compete for the work.
EADS, which has said that if it is granted the contract it would find a U.S. partner, yesterday said it was seeking locations that could support a 9,000-foot runway and a 1.5 million-square-foot production facility, said Ralph D. Crosby Jr., chairman and chief executive of EADS North America. The company would invest more than $600 million in the facility, he said.
If EADS does not win the contract, the company will still build a smaller facility for engineering and design services for its A330, A340 and anticipated A350 aircraft, he said. The plant, which should be open in early 2006, would provide 150 to 200 jobs, the company said.
"We have consistently maintained the KC330 tanker will be an American airplane," said Guy Hicks, a spokesman for EADS.
Earlier this week, EADS said it appointed retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Silas R. Johnson Jr. as director of marketing for its tanker-plane program. The company already provides such planes to Canada, Germany and Australia and is near a deal to supply the aircraft for Britain.
Marvin R. Sambur, the Air Force's outgoing acquisition chief, said yesterday that the military should limit its dependence on foreign components when replacing the tanker fleet.
"We should be careful, if we decide to go with a foreign company, that we make sure a large percentage is built in the United States," said Sambur, who leaves his job next week. Sambur said a version of the tanker based on Lockheed Martin Corp.'s C-130J is unlikely.
Sambur also said the Druyun controversy will complicate the jobs of Air Force acquisition officials. Several investigations in Air Force procurement were begun in light of Druyun's admissions. Boeing's F-18 fighter and the Army's $100 billion modernization of the Future Combat System are likely to be subjects of investigations, Sambur said.
"There is no way out of this [controversy] until everyone leaves," Sambur said. "There are many people lining up to leave. . . . Acquisition is being sullied as a poor area to go to."
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chief critic of the tanker deal, has said Air Force leadership should be held accountable for a failure in oversight. Sambur and Air Force Secretary James G. Roche both announced their resignations. "My head rolled and Secretary Roche's head rolled," Sambur said. He said he and Roche resigned "because we thought that would be a mechanism to break the accountability argument."