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Direct Sale of Tanker to DoD?

In what could be a game changer, I hear that some Northrop Grumman and EADS supporters are pushing a plan to sell 20 tankers -- A330-200 freighter models -- as a commercial deal directly to the Pentagon, thereby bypassing the whole RFP process. The idea: bypass the RFP process and inject the tankers directly into the Pentagon's tanker fleet as quickly as possible.

The logic is simple: since Northrop already has tankers in the air and can build more planes fairly quickly, that could give them a big leg up on Boeing since the Pentagon would commit to one airframe, one training regime and could refine its concept of operations with the EADS plane in mind.

I understand the governor of Alabama, Bob Riley, met with his colleagues at the annual meeting of the South Governors Association last month and discussed just how to craft an effective lobby effort to convince Congress and opinion makers that EADS building tankers, freighters and perhaps other models would mean many jobs in many southern districts. The broader effort is by the governors is all about an aerospace corridor in the South, but EADS is of course, the central focus of that job push for Alabama. Riley has been active on the tanker issue, issuing this statement after Defense Secretary Robert Gates descision to postpone an RFP until the next administration. “I strongly disagree with this decision and find it absolutely bewildering. The Air Force has been trying for six years now to replace its aging fleet of tankers. Yet another delay does nothing except put our warfighters at greater risk. For that reason alone, I can’t understand why anyone would make this decision. At some point, we have to say we are going to put our warfighters first - not the suppliers, not politics."

Though Riley's effort to push for effort isn't yet directly tied to any effort to push a commercial tanker sale, I hear some of those who support this concept should be meeting soon with Riley to suggest this course. The prospective effort to sell tankers directly might piggyback on this, giving it some momentum to overcome what I would expect to be staunch resistance on the Hill from Boeing's supporters.

Of course, Northrop hasn't exactly shown themselves to be the most adept managers of either public opinion or the opinions of decision makers since the Government Accountability Office ruled the Air Force botched the contract award.

Look for a closer alliance on this effort between EADS, who would actually be providing a lot of the jobs, and the southern lawmakers.

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