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Boeing Supporters Spin Tanker Hearing

Reps. Norm Dicks and Rick Larsen, both Democrats from Washington state, worked hard late last evening  to put a hopeful face on what must have been a somewhat frustrating hearing for a Boeing supporter.

The Defense Department's apparent switch from a 20-year to a 40-year life cycle assumption would help Boeing since the larger Northrop plane would require larger hangars and other support facilities and consume more fuel, Dicks and Larsen said. 

Dicks offered a masterful performance during the hearing as the aggrieved congressman, indignant that the Defense Department had not consulted him and had "misled" lawmakers about whether they were committed to a "larger" tanker.

"You are going to say the bigger tanker gets more credit," Dicks declaimed as John Young, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, sat quietly behind the witness table.

Dicks also pointed to a study -- which he admitted after the hearing had been performed for Boeing by a consultant -- which concluded the Northrop plane would consume a whopping $35 billion more in fuel during its life cycle. A source familiar with both proposals said the Northrop plane might consume more fuel in part because it can carry more fuel. Also, this source said Northrop's increased fuel costs were outweighed by an intriguing capability. The Northrop plane is able to refuel itself in flight, allowing it to remain for extended periods of time -- up to "several days," according to this source.

A somewhat beleaguered Young remained stoic during Dicks' hammering. He has said repeatedly that both the Boeing and the Northrop Grumman planes are considered medium tankers.

Most of the rest of the hearing was fairly lackluster, with predictable statements from Northrop supporters (read mostly Alabama lawmakers) and from Boeing supporters (read Washington and Kansas lawmakers).

No one scored a knock-out blow and we haven't gotten a read yet on how Sue Payton, head of Air Force acquisition, fared in the closed hearing that didn't start until around 9 p.m. last night.

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