Tanker Battle Still Raging

Monday, April 6, 2009

After more than 50 years as the military's gas station in the sky -- and a decade of attempts to replace it -- the KC-135 is showing its age.

The tanker planes were built in the late 1950s and early '60s and were supposed to fly for 20 years. But bitter competition between defense contractors and heavy pressure by members of Congress eager to bring jobs to their districts have caused delay in replacing the fleet.

Both Boeing and Northrop Grumman propose a bigger plane that can carry more fuel. The plan is to phase out the KC-135 gradually once a new tanker is chosen, but the contractors and their allies in Congress disagree over which plane is better.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates plans to try again this spring to award a new contract. Even if a winner is picked this year, it will be years before new planes roll off the assembly line.

-- Associated Press

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