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Tanker Split Buy Dead, For Now

In the soon-to-be immortal words of Sen. Daniel Inouye: "Nothing ever dies" on Capitol Hill. That was Inouye's response Thursday afternoon when a reporter asked the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman if the split buy for a tanker was dead.

Pressed, the senator who often speaks like a seer, finally admitted that the split buy did appear to be really dead for this session of Congress since it was not even a subject for conference discussions.

You've got to hand this one to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He pushed back against Congress time and again, arguing that no rational economic or military justification could be mounted in favor of handing part of the tanker purchase to Boeing and part of it to Northrop Grumman. Of course, this only heightens the importance of the coming draft request for proposal. For those who have not been delving deep in tanker matters lately, it looks as the draft may not come out until close to Thanksgiving. And if Gates really is leaving the building sometime in the next four months, the draft may actually hold until he leaves.

The other biggish story from this remarkably speedy passage of the Senate version of the defense appropriations bill (30-0 passage and no amendments offered during a meeting of less than one hour) was the addition of $1.7 billion for an additional DDG-51 destroyer. This addition, which appears to have caught industry by surprise, was done "to benefit from economies of scale and improve stability [of the] Nation's shipbuilding industrial base," according to the report accompanying the appropriations bill. Sen. Inouye put it more simply. The ship was added to "just keep the production line going" and to save money.

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