Air Force To Announce Tanker Contract Friday

WASHINGTON D.C. — Air Force officials are set to announce at 2 p.m. Friday the winner of a $40 Billion contract to replace the service’s aging tanker aircraft fleet.

Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne and Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Duncan J. McNabb will announce the KC-X contract award winner at 5 p.m. EST at the Pentagon.

The KC-X is the next generation tanker aircraft that will eventually replace the Air Force’s fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers, which have been the backbone of the aerial refueling fleet since the late 1950s.

The Boeing Company, which built the current fleet of KC-135 tanker aircraft, is competing against Northrup Grumman and their European partner EADS, the parent company of Airbus. Boeing is proposing a modified version of their 767 airliner while Northrup Grumman EADS is proposing a tanker based on the Airbus A330 airliner.

The contract would call for the construction of 179 tanker aircraft worth an estimated $40 Billion over the next 10 to 15 years.

If Boeing wins the contract, it could provide a huge boost to the state’s economy, with the aircraft being built at their facilities in Everett. The 767 production line has been under scrutiny for possible shutdown the last few years due to declining sales; winning the tanker contract would insure the production line staying open for production of the next generation tanker.

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire, noting the economic impact of the contract for the state, said recently that she feels confident about Boeing’s chances of landing the deal.

“I just think we win if it’s done absolutely without politics, based on experience, work force, all of that. So I’m feeling good about this,” she told reporters on Tuesday. She also mentioned the possibility of protesting the decision if Friday afternoon’s announcement grants the contract to a team made of Northrop Grumman and EADS personnel – the makers of Airbus.

“If we don’t win, then I think there’ll be a lot of questions asked about why in the world would Boeing, with that work force, that expertise, that experience, that history – how could they not have gotten this?” she said.

Regardless of which company is awarded the contract, the skies over the Inland Northwest will be forever changed by Friday’s decision.

Fairchild Air Force Base, which is one of Air Mobility Command’s largest tanker bases, currently uses the KC-135 in support of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing and the Air Guard’s 141st Air Refueling Wing.

Friday’s decision will mean the phased retirement of Fairchild’s Stratotankers to the new airframe and it will mean active duty and Air Guard air crews will need to undergo flight training on the new airframe as well.

The Pentagon said Tuesday that they hope whichever of the two bidders is rejected takes the news graciously and doesn’t protest the decision, which could further delay the much needed military upgrade and cost taxpayers more money in the process.

Still, state officials are optimistic that the announcement will be a favorable one. According to an Associated Press report published Thursday, “Boeing is considered the heavy favorite to win the $40 billion contract over the next 10 to 15 years to replace the Air Force’s 179 aging refueling tankers.”