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Pentagon Will Extend Air Force Tanker Bid If Euro Giant Shows Real Interest

It’s been a tough road to refurbishing the Air Force’s refueling tanker fleet. The Pentagon’s KC-X tanker bid has seen Northrup Grumman drop out in frustration. European defense giant EADS has been playing coy about bidding on the multi-billion-dollar contract. EADS said earlier this month it’s considering submitting its own bid, alongside Boeing, but it wants the Pentagon to extend its May 10 deadline by 90 days. Meanwhile, the Air Force keeps its decades-old tanker fleet. But today the Pentagon put the onus back on EADS.

In a press briefing that just concluded, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said that if it receives “formal notification” from EADS as well as Boeing that they intend to bid, then the Defense Department will keep the bid open until July 10. That’s 30 days short of what EADS wants. Morrell called it a “reasonable period of time,” and sweetened the pot, adding that the Pentagon would compress its schedule for a decision on awarding the KC-X contract, keeping to a deadline of “early this fall.”

Asked if international politics played a role in the decision — EADS is the parent of French aerospace giant Airbus and French President Nicholas Sarkozy said that if the process was fair, “EADS will bid” during a White House appearance yesterday that was largely about cooperation on Iran — Morrell firmly denied any such thing. “Politics are not a part of this process,” he said, “Never have been, never will be.”

Legislators have an expectation that EADS, should it win, will build the KC-X in Mobile, Ala. A group of eight bipartisan friends of Boeing in the Senate wrote to President Obama today urging the Pentagon to side with the American company.

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