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American Forces Press Service

Defense Department Stands by Tanker Contract Decision

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2008 – The selection of Northrop Grumman Corp. to build the next-generation air-refueling tanker aircraft followed a fair competition and was based on the merits of the proposals submitted, a senior Defense Department official told reporters today.

Bryan Whitman, deputy assistant secretary for public affairs, said the challenges like the one filed yesterday by the Boeing Company are built into the acquisition process to ensure it complies with federal regulations.

The Boeing Company filed a formal protest yesterday asking the Government Accountability Office to review the decision to contract with Northrop Grumman to build up to 179 KC-45A aircraft over the next decade. The Air Force announced the decision Feb. 29.

Northrop Grumman partnered with Airbus to compete against Boeing Corp. for the $35 billion contract.

If Boeing elects to challenge the process, the department “will take the necessary steps to ensure that is given the appropriate treatment,” Whitman said today.

GAO has 100 days to review the contract award and determine whether the Defense Department followed appropriate processes and procedures, he said.

“We believe that it was a very fair competition, transparent to the extent that any competition can be with the request for proposal process, and that the decision made by the department was based on merit,” Whitman said. “So we will see.”

During a Feb. 29 news conference announcing the contract decision, the Air Force acquisition chief said the Northrop Grumman proposal offered “the best value to the government” and earned top marks for mission capability, past performance and other factors.

Sue C. Payton, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, insisted that “no bias” was involved in the contract award.

Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne said the Air Force looks forward to the vastly superior air-fueling capabilities the next-generation tankers will offer over the current fleet of Eisenhower-era KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft they will replace.

“This is a platform we have been working on for some time, and clearly we want to move this program forward in an expeditious manner,” Whitman said today. “But challenges are part of the process and built into the system to ensure that the rigor and integrity of the federal acquisition regulation is followed. We are prepared to do that, and we will do that. “

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