Murtha not sold on Boeing sole-source tanker contract

EVERETT — The chairman of the House subcommittee on defense appropriations believes the Air Force needs to begin replacing its KC-135 tanker fleet as quickly as possible.

But after touring Boeing’s Everett factory today, Rep. John Murtha isn’t convinced that the Air Force should award the multi-billion dollar deal exclusively to Boeing.

That’s partly because the tanker competition has dragged on for too long and has become too political to expect a quick resolution when the Air Force puts the contract up for bid again this spring.

“We’ve been trying to get tankers out for the last 8 or 9 years,” Murtha said.

To avoid another lengthy competition and likely protest, which happened during the last round, Murtha has been pushing the idea that the Air Force should split the award between Boeing and Northrop Grumman and its partner, EADS.

On Monday, Murtha told media after a tour of Boeing’s factory that he’s trying to free up funding for two tankers per month.

“If we build two airplanes at the same time, it may enhance competition,” Murtha said.

But Murtha has a lot of politicians and defense officials to convince, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the vice chairman of the House sub-committee, Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash.

Dicks was instrumental in triggering the first tanker bid, in which Boeing would have sold and leased KC-767s to the Air Force. And he adamantly criticized the Air Force for selecting the Northrop-EADS tanker in the second competition, which government auditors overturned.

:”I don’t see how we could go build them in France … when we’ve got workers here,” Dicks said.

Northrop’s partner EADS would build the initial tankers at Airbus’s site in France. EADS is the parent company of Airbus. The duo would later move production of the KC-30 to Mobile, Ala., where Murtha recently visited.

Murtha said he wants Congress to allocate in a supplemental spending bill this spring money to fund the development of a new tanker. Getting the tanker on track would create or keep people working during this economic turmoil, he said.

“This is a stimulus package itself,” he said.

Murtha said he was impressed by Boeing’s factory in Everett and by its workforce.

“I’m impressed by the workmanship of the people out here,” he said.

Dicks pointed out that’s something Northrop-EADS don’t have yet in Alabama.

“We have the highest quality of trained aerospace workers,” Dicks said.

“The other guys … they’ve got open fields and no workforce.”

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