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EADS Commits to KC-X Plant

UPDATED: Corrects Who Called Whom

Boeing and EADS NA are busy spending the holiday season preparing for the KC-X contract award sometime early next year. It's not exactly a factory to build KC-45s from the ground up, but EADS NA said today it wants bids to build a "conversion" facility in Mobile, Ala.

And Boeing launched what looks like a clever pysops campaign to out-psych EADS, using defense analyst and consultant Loren Thompson to spread the word that -- shock, horror --  the maker of the 787 Dreamliner thinks it may well lose the tanker competition after having seen some of the bidding data that the Air Force shared with the two companies.

Thompson called spoke with the closest thing EADS has to a hometown reporter, George Talbot of the Mobile Press-Register, and told him the news. Why George, aside from the fact that he's a canny fellow with a deft touch in covering Alabama politics? Some observers believe that Boeing wanted to lay the Capitol Hill groundwork for a protest should the company not win the competition outright. (Some who watch the tanker competition closely still believe a dual buy is possible, if not likely. They point to, among other recent decisions, the Navy plan to buy both Littoral Combat Ships.)

If Boeing does not win outright, they can turn around and scream: we TOLD you the competition just wasn't fair! Even before the decision was made we were behind the curve and that can only be because of those subsidies those French-affiliated people received.

In a very carefully worded release to its "supporters" today, Boeing tanker spokesman Bill Barksdale said this:

"As a defense contractor, Boeing understands that our government customers place great trust in us to handle sensitive information with extreme care, and we train our employees in the proper procedures to keep that information safe and secure. When faced with the unusual and delicate situation of receiving a disc with our competitor's sensitive data recently, the two Boeing employees who received the disc acted in an exemplary fashion to safeguard and return it to the customer without gaining access to its contents.

"Will this incident impact the KC-X Tanker competition? That's a tough question to answer. We're still in the process of reviewing the situation and its implications with the U.S. Air Force."

Both companies know what the other knows about what the Air Force knows. (Devoted readers will remember the wonderful mix-up whereby the Air Force sent both companies data about the other's bid.)

And EADS is sending a clear signal today to its Alabama (and other southern) political supporters that it really means to bring jobs to the region, no matter what...

In their release, EADS said its program management firm will begin soliciting bids for the conversion center. "The selection of a program manager and initiation of work on the Mobile Conversion Center reflects EADS North America’s commitment to produce the KC-45 in the U.S. and put Americans on the job as soon as possible," the company said.

The Air Force may issue the contract award as early as mid-January, though the future, as my fortune teller would say, is cloudy.

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