Pitfalls of the Tanker Protest

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We dont have any inside track on the Government Accountability Offices decision this week about the Boeing protest of the airborne tanker contract award to Northrop Grumman, but here are some of the possible pitfalls no matter which way the GAO rules. (If you know something about the protest and want to tell us before it's officially released, email me at colin.clark@military-inc.com. No one will know where it came from.)

If the protest is denied, Boeings supporters in Congress are clearly prepared to try and make life as miserable for the Pentagon as possible. Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), a senior member on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee and one of Boeings biggest boosters on the Hill, made it clear after Thursdays meeting of the House Aerospace Caucus that he was working hand in glove with Rep. John Murtha (D-Penn.), dean of the defense subcommittee, to come up with creative ways to stymie Northrop. Although single members such as these can cause heartache and heartburn, I think the relative quiet of most senators (aside from the two Washington state lawmakers) on the issue indicates that barring some pretty spectacular goof by the Air Force contracting folks Northrop will probably get the contract through the appropriations and authorization processes

In addition to the congressional angle, there are enormous allied industrial cooperation issues at stake. The award of the contract to Northrop was seen as a bold and welcome move by the Air Force to include allied companies on truly major contracts.

Taking it away now either through congressional action or by reopening the bid as a result of the protest decision would be read as a slap in the face of NATO allies and raise questions about the viability of the United States as a defense industrial partner. As one defense analyst, who has been in the thick of the contract award process, told me this afternoon, any American attending the Farnborough Air Show in mid-July will need an armed guard should the Northrop-EADS team be denied the contract.

-- Colin Clark

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