Wow. Talk about saving the controversial news until Friday...
Today the US Air Force announced that it has selected Airbus to build it's new fleet of airborne refueling aircraft. The Airbus plane, a variant of the civilian A330 airliner, beat out a competing proposal from Boeing which was based on the 767. All told, the contract may be worth more than $30 billion. Aviation Week carries the summary:
Northrop Grumman and EADS have won the U.S. Air Force's KC-X tanker award, beating a Boeing-led team for the long-awaited, controversial and delayed decision.
The award, for a total buy of 179 tankers to be dubbed KC-45A, is expected to result in a deal worth tens of billions of dollars and leading to a dozen or more new aircraft each year for several years at a cost of about $3 billion per year.
KC-X is the first iteration of a three-phased approach to replace the Air Force's fleet of 530 KC-135E/Rs and 59 KC-10s. The next tranche to replace the Air Force's larger KC-10 tankers, dubbed KC-Y, is not expected until at least 2020, effectively freezing Boeing out of the tanker market for the foreseeable future.
The decision also seals the fate for Boeing's 767 production line. The far newer A330 design continues to outpace the 767 in commercial orders. Boeing has about four years of work left for its Everett, Wash., production line without more orders. The company was looking to the U.S. Air Force to be the only and final 767 customer in the coming years.
What's the new plane got? This
Military-Industrial History Channel-style marketing video explains the highlights:
Rest assured, this isn't the last you'll be hearing about this, and it's safe to say many members of Congress will be making a lot of noise in the days and weeks ahead to protest the Pentagon's decision to purchase "a tanker plane made in Eurrrrp." Fasten your seatbelts, folks ... the ride is gonna get bumpy.
Northrop Grumman KC-30 Tanker (Manufacturer's webpage)
Congress in Turmoil over Air Force Tanker Decision (Reuters, 29 February, 2008)
(IMAGE: Artist rendition of a KC-45 refueling a B-2 bomber, by Northrop Grumman)