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Northrop Threatens To Drop Tanker Bid

UPDATED: Sen. Murray Says NG "Up to Old Tricks" and Wants to "Undermine the American Aerospace Industry." Northrop Grumman has told Pentagon acquisition chief Ash Carter that it will not submit a bid for the KC-X tanker program unless the government makes significant changes to the final request for proposal. The company made its declaration in a letter today from incoming Northrop CEO Wes Bush to Carter: "As a result, I must regrettably inform you that, absent a responsive set of changes in the final RFP, Northrop Grumman has determined that it cannot submit a bid to the department for the KC-X program."

Bush left the door to a vibrant competition somewhat open, adding that the company hopes the Pentagon "will elect to modify its approach to this procurement in a way that will enable us to offer our product for your consideration."

Company spokesman Randy Belote confirmed the letter's contents. Belote said the company is "convinced that they want a prefer smaller tanker with less multirole which puts our tanker at a terrible disadvantage."

A veteran aerospace analyst was more direct. "This is the stupidest contest you've ever seen," said Joel Johnson, a consultant for various international clients, including Northrop Grumman. "It's a Boeing RFP. When air forces have been able to decide on merit and price, every one of them has gone with the KC-45 clone."

Belote said the company does expect "the final RFP will take our concerns into account."

Northrop has considered this approach for some time and it was known as "the nuclear option." The company decided to go nuclear after a Nov. 4 letter to the Pentagon in which the company first said it might not be able to bid under the terms of the current RFP elicited a negative response.

"The process has not allowed us to actually have a dialogue," Belote said.

Capitol Hill began to weigh in with Washington Sen. Patty Murray's claim that Northrop has made a "transparent attempt to once again press the Air Force into tilting the tanker competition in their favor by threatening to drop out of the competition."

She said the military “shouldn’t be fooled by Airbus’ tricks," adding that the country should not respond to "the bullying of an illegally subsidized foreign competitor who has made no secret of its attempts to undermine the American aerospace industry and the jobs it supports.” Washington state is, of course, the center of the great mass of Boeing's operations, though the comp[any is now headquartered in Chicago.

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