Northrop Grumman yesterday (June 19) issued a terse press advisory announcing that it is deferring the gala ceremony that it planned to host with its industrial partner EADS-North America on June 28 in Mobile, Ala., to break ground on their adjoining KC-45 tanker aircraft assembly plants. An EADS-NA representative confirmed the postponement. Wednesday’s protest ruling by the Government Accountability Office means that Northrop’s team won’t be pressing forward on new USAF tankers anytime soon. As we reported yesterday, GAO upheld Boeing’s protest of the award to the Northrop-led team to build up to 179 new tankers under work valued at around $35 billion over the next 15 or so years. GAO has recommended that USAF reopen the competition to new bids from both. If protest delays afflicting the Air Force’s next-generation combat search and rescue helicopter contract are any guide, resolution of the tanker award could be another two years or more in coming. Northrop had said the groundbreaking ceremony was contingent on GAO’s findings; the company was hoping that GAO would not find fault with the Air Force’s evaluation methods. Under Northrop’s original industrial plan, EADS-NA pledged to conduct final assembly of its Airbus A330 airframe—the commercial platform upon which Northrop’s KC-45 tanker is based—in Mobile, while Northrop would then take the aircraft and modify it to the Air Force’s military tanker configuration at its adjacent plant. Northrop has claimed its tanker work would generate 48,000 jobs in the US, many clustered in the Gulf Coast region, still economically reeling from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.