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And the Winner is Boeing!

The U.S. Defense Department and Air Force announced that Boeing (BA) has been selected to provide the new KC-X aerial tanker. The design submitted by EADS NA (EADS:P) was not chosen.

The new KC-46A will be based on Boeing’s 767 airliner design.

The Secretary of the Air Force, Mr. Michael Donley, stated that the decision was based on “mission effectiveness in wartime and life cycle costs as embodied in fuel efficiency and military construction costs”. This might be a hint that the larger KC-30 aircraft from EADS might have required more investment in new and bigger facilities then the smaller 767 tanker.

The contract has been very political with states that stand to gain thousands of jobs from the program using their Senators and Representatives to push for the respective bidders.

EADS does have the right to protest the decision as Boeing did in 2008 when the contract was awarded to Northrop Grumman (NOC) and EADS. They will have to wait until their debrief by the Air Force before making any decision about that.

Even an unsuccessful protest may delay the start of the program for several weeks and the Air Force plans on receiving the first 18 aircraft in 2017. The new KC-46A will replace Cold War era KC-135R tankers some of which have been flying for fifty years.

Cross posted at Defense Procurement News.

KC-X Soon? Protest Coming

At a recent press availability during the Air Force Association’s winter conference the Secretary of the Air Force indicated that the KC-X new aerial tanker contract will be awarded as early as this week. Earlier rumors had it being done in the next month or so.

Mr. Donley also made it clear that there is a potential for a protest of the award by either Boeing (BA) or EADS NA (EADS:P) if they don’t win and that the Air Force and the Defense Department are prepared to deal with it.

This is the third attempt to award this contract with the last contest won by Northrop Grumman (NOC) and EADS in 2008 overturned on Boeing’s protest. Due to the size, importance and the conflicts between the U.S. contractor and its supporters and the European aerospace giant this may continue to be an messy, extended affair.

For now everyone must wait until the decision is announced which could occur as early as tomorrow after 5:00 Eastern.

Potential Sale of Northrop’s Ship Yards Signal First Major Shakeup of U.S. Defense Contractors

On Friday Northrop Grumman (NOC) one of the biggest U.S. defense contractors filed paperwork with the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) that lays the ground for selling their shipbuilding assets. As early as June the company had said that they were considering this move.

As we wrote several weeks ago the U.S. Navy is looking at a severe reduction in planned ships and ship construction:

“With the pressures on the defense budget caused by the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for the last nine years as well as the high cost of new ships the number of orders each year has been reduced. On top of that the Obama Administration canceled or restructured planned programs by ending the DDG-1000 and substituting current DDG-51 class ships as well as ending a plan to have two designs produced for the new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and have a competition.”

So far at least one company, Cleveland Ship, has said that they intend to purchase Northrop’s yards. There are also reports that several private equity companies are exploring the purchase. Many smaller defense contractors or parts of larger ones have recently been purchased by equity companies including the sale of Northrop’s SETA arm, TASC, to one in 2009.

There have been rumors that the then smaller Northrop would consider a merger with Boeing (BA) to maximize the similar product lines and capabilities.

In the Nineties as the defense budget declined due to the “Peace Dividend” there was major contractions in the number of defense contractors mainly through M&A activity. The expected decline in the next decade will have the same effect as the number of programs and contracts decline.

Northrop’s ship yards in Louisiana and Virginia make aircraft carriers, destroyers and amphibious war ships. The Newport News facility is the only place that aircraft carriers are made as well as doing major refit work on them. Its operation is critical to the support of the U.S. Navy which is built around these ships.

The yards are also major employers for these states and their closing or reduction would be severe blows to the local economy. Keeping them open and working is critical to not only the industrial base but also the economy during a recession.

Unfortunately the Department of Defense is looking at improving efficiencies in their defense contracting. Keeping sites open just to have jobs is inefficient and costly. This may mean money for other programs may have to be used to maintain this industrial base capability. The balancing act will only get harder as defense budgets decline.

The U.S. may be entering a time when it cannot afford or build enough ships to support its current industry and while ship construction is first it may spread to other sectors of the defense economy such as aerospace and vehicle development and production.

Any loss of industrial base this time around will be expensive and time consuming to recover when the U.S. is facing economic and budgetary difficulties.

Photo from cybaea’s flickr photostream.

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Reports That EADS Has U.S. Partner

EADS (EADS:P) had decided to go it alone with their own bid for the KC-X aerial tanker after former partner Northrop Grumman (NOC) decided the requirements favored Boeing (BA) too much. All that meant is that EADS would prime the contract but would probably find other companies, including U.S. ones, to sub for them. It is now being said by EADS that they have found at least one U.S. defense contractor to do “sensitive equipment”. The company is unidentified at this point.

This only makes sense as it allows Airbus to deliver a A330 aircraft or tanker to a U.S. facility to do the integration of the military equipment such as radios and defensive equipment. EADS is planning to do this with Lockheed Martin (LMT) on the Army’s new attempt at buying an Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) and should do this for KC-X. Lockheed planned the same thing with Augusta Westland on the failed VH-71 program. By using an American company to do this sort of work it helps with security and technology transfer issues. It is also the reason that EADS North America exists.

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Analysis: EADS Participating In KC-X Contest

This is an article I wrote at BNET: Government about EADS decision to submit a proposal.

“The decade-long saga to replace the KC-X aerial tanker contract begins a new chapter. The European aerospace giant EADS (EADS: P) and Airbus, its subsidiary, announced that it will definitely submit a contract proposal to the Air Force. The program will replace the aging Cold War KC-135 tankers (pictured).

Boeing (BA) thought it had won the contract for at least 179 new aircraft earlier this year when Northrop Grumman (NOC) who had bid in partnership with EADS withdrew from the bidding. Then, earlier this month, the Pentagon agreed to extend the deadline, at EADS’ request, to allow it time to submit a new bid.”

Read the rest at BNET.

EADS Back in Play for the KC-X, the Aerial Tanker That Just Can’t Get off the Ground — From BNET: Government

Here is the latest post I wrote for BNET: Government –

“When Northrop Grumman (NOC) announced in March that it would not bid for the new aerial tanker for the U.S. Air Froce, the KC-X, Boeing (BA) and its many supporters in Congress believed it was sure to get the $35 billion contract. Now the deadline to bid has been extended 60 days to allow the European aerospace giant, EADS (EADS:P), to submit a proposal.

There are already reports that EADS, which would seek to provide A330 airliners made by its subsidiary, Airbus, to be modified into the tankers, is talking to other defense contractors about partnering.”

The rest may be found here.

President Obama Calls For “Free and Fair” Tanker Contest

At a joint press conference with France’s President Sarkorzy President Obama said that he expected the KC-X contest to be a “free and fair” one. This of course assumes that another company besides Boeing (BA) bids on the program.

France has spoken out strongly about concerns the current RFP was written in such a way that only Boeing could win it. Northrop Grumman (NOC) decided not to submit a bid this time around due to these kind of issues. EADS (EADS:P) who had planned on partnering with Northrop is currently considering submitting a separate bid. Sarkozy has expressed his support of EADS and supposedly discussed the issue with Obama today. Obama also stressed that the DoD makes the final decision and he has no role in any of this.

The political fallout if Boeing doesn’t win will be significant this time around — even for Obama.

Backers of Two Tanker Contracts Want To Stay Anonymous

The Wichita Eagle reports that the a group backing building both the Boeing and EADs tankers, doesn’t want to reveal its backers:
The investors backing a campaign asking the government to split its contract for aerial refueling tankers between Boeing and Northrop Grumman want to remain anonymous for now. The campaign is called Build Them Both. “We are funded by a group of investors who have asked to remain nameless at this time,” said the effort’s campaign manager, Carrie Giddens. The group is not union sponsored and does not have ties to either Northrop or Boeing, Giddens said in an e-mail exchange. However, “we have sought out funding from both companies, their suppliers and unions who would be impacted by building them both.” The requests went out in the past two weeks. On Monday, Giddens called Northrop’s decision to pull out of the bidding process “bad news for American workers, our men and women in uniform, and for the taxpayer.” With only one company seeking a contract, 50,000 jobs that would have been created won’t be, Giddens said in the statement. “Without an ongoing competition there is no way to control costs, to the detriment of our military and taxpayer.”

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