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Boeing And Northrop Spar Over Tanker Time Lines

With Boeing threatening to drop out of the hunt for a new Air Force aerial refueling tanker, rival Northrop Grumman and the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. contend any delay will add to the price.

Boeing says it needs of six months to respond to the Pentagon’s new specifications, which have changed dramatically in response to concerns raised by the Government Accountability Office’s review of the initial contract award.

The Pentagon is expected to release a final version of its requirements soon and pick a winner in the renewed competition by the end of the year.

A delay would mean pushing a decision into the new administration and a new Congress likely more dominated by Democrats. Tanker allegiances are based more on geography that political party, but Boeing plans to build its tankers Washington state, which leans Democratic.

The Pentagon’s new specifications place more weight on size and the amount of fuel that can be carried – strengths of the Northrop Grumman-European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. plane than in the first round of the competition, said Boeing spokesman Dan Beck. Conversely, it downplayed strengths of the Boeing 767 – like the ability to survive attacks and execute airlifts.

“They’re truly looking for a different plane than the last competition,” Beck said, though he would not comment on whether the company was planning to offer the larger 777, which it decided against in 2007.
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