(AP) The Defense Department has again delayed plans to award a $35 billion contract for Air Force refueling planes, handing a victory to defense contractor Boeing Co. and leaving the politically charged decision for the next president.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates told lawmakers Wednesday that he ended the current round of bidding on the tankers because the Pentagon’s plan to pick a winner by the end of the year no longer seemed possible given the complexity of the project and the rancor between Boeing and rival Northrop Grumman Corp. He said a delay would provide a “cooling off” period.
“We can no longer complete a competition that would be viewed as fair and objective in this highly charged environment,” Gates said in statement prepared for testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.
The decision represents a major win for Boeing in its lengthy and bitter struggle with Northrop for the lucrative contract for 179 planes that could eventually include the right to build many more. Boeing recently threatened to back out of the bidding, saying the Pentagon’s timeline and terms unfairly favored the larger plane proposed by Northrop.
Boeing welcomed the Pentagon’s decision, saying it will allow “the appropriate time for this important and complex procurement to be conducted in a thorough and open competition.”
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