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Tanker Weekend Roundup

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Controversy over the tanker deal continues to snowball as Boeing quietly waits for momentum against NG/EADS to build in its favor before launching a public assault on the deal.

Rep. John Murtha's hearing last week was downright embarrassing, with the HAC-D chairman lecturing Air Force officials on his ability to kank the deal on a whim -- "We appropriate the money, so you can't do anything if we tell you you can't" he basically said. Then Murtha went on to compare the Boeing loss to the Dubai Ports World deal, saying the reflexive, jingoistic, anti-trade reaction that scuttled that deal could rear its ugly head here again too.

Never shying away from a tap dance on the fringes of political polemics, he then pushed the start button on hanging the whole nefarious deal with NG/EADS on McCain's head:

"Because of the individual in the other body stopping what the Air Force had already approved to do ... is costing billions of dollars and we're at a point where we don't know how long it's going to take to get these things [KC-135s] out of the air..."

Lemme get this straight: You thought the Boeing lease deal that McCain exposed was a better idea than an open and fair competition for the replacement? Do you remember, Mr. Murtha, that deal lead to jailing of a Boeing official and the resignation of a couple more? Unbelievable.

Here's what our friends at Aviation Week had to say about the affect of the deal on Boeing bigwigs:

Arrogance about its relationship with the U.S. Defense Dept., lack of focus on customer requirements and reluctance to provide detailed pricing data contributed to Boeing's stunning loss late last month of a Pentagon contract to build aerial refuelers. "Boeing 'knew more than the customer' what the customer wanted, and in its arrogance it didn't listen," says a source close to the 767 tanker team. The proposal's executive group spent a lot of time "doing some soul-searching" as a result.

The defeat could bring on a wave of personnel changes for top executives involved in crafting the proposal. And it could reshape Boeing's business strategy for capturing U.S. defense work. The company lost the $300-billion Joint Strike Fighter program to Lockheed Martin in 2001 and, while it still has an active F/A-18 product line, it is unlikely to break back into the fighter market. Last year, Boeing's unmanned combat air system design lost to Northrop Grumman's X-47 in a Navy project.

While the company still has strong rotorcraft, space and missile defense businesses, its place among airframers is unclear.

And the New York Daily News has gotten into the fray:

Angry Boeing supporters are vowing revenge against Republican presidential candidate John McCain over Boeing's loss of a $35 billion Air Force tanker contract to European plane maker Airbus.

Boeing supporters in Congress are directing their wrath at the Arizona senator for scuttling an earlier deal that would have let Boeing build the next generation of Air Force refueling tankers.

"I hope the voters of this state remember what John McCain has done to them and their jobs," said Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), whose state would have been home to the tanker program and gained about 9,000 jobs.

McCain said he is keeping an open mind on the contract, but in the past he has boasted about his role in blocking a 2004 version that gave the contract to Boeing.

He has run ads touting his role in fighting "pork" such as the tanker project and cited it in a recent debate.

So let me get this straight...It is McCain's fault for exposing what many consider a criminal deal between the Air Force and Boeing? Why isn't the wrath being directed toward Boeing for its earlier finagling and for its loss based on the merits of the two competitors this time? Politics, my friends, politics...

And here's a Machiavellian strategy for you: maybe there won't be a resolution to this debate/controversy at all until after the election in November since it could prove useful as a campaign issue once the Democratic nominee is anointed. Since McCain is tied so directly to the tanker tango, why not keep it alive for a while to use on the stump in Red states that lost jobs in the deal?

(Thanks to NC for the gouge)

-- Christian

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