Northrop Grumman Corp. announced yesterday, as expected, that it would use a plane from Boeing Co.'s European rival, Airbus SAS, to try to beat out Boeing for work worth billions building 100 refueling tankers for the Air Force.
Chicago-based Boeing lost a deal worth more than $20 billion to lease and then sell the planes to the Air Force last year after a series of contracting scandals, including an admission that it had illegally hired an Air Force procurement official. European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., which operates Airbus and already competes with Boeing on commercial airliners, then emerged as a competitor for the military work. It began recruiting a U.S. partner to buffer criticism from Congress that it would ship jobs overseas.
Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman said yesterday that the tanker would be based on Airbus's A330 and be built in Mobile, Ala., where EADS has said it would open a manufacturing plant if it gets the tanker contract. More than 50 percent of the materials used on the plane will come from U.S. sources, Northrop Grumman said in a written statement.
The modified A330 will compete against Boeing's 767, which has faced dwindling sales, in the expected competition. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is not expected to decide for several months how the Air Force should replace the tanker fleet. The planes are 40 years old on average.
EADS and Boeing have faced off overseas to provide tankers to other countries, but this would mark EADS's emergence as a major supplier to the Pentagon.