Boeing, Rivals Appeal, Sort Of, For Air Force Tanker Contract

February 6th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Boeing, Rivals Appeal, Sort Of, For Air Force Tanker Contract

Seattle Post-Intelligencer
February 6, 2008 By Eric Rosenberg, Hearst Newspapers
WASHINGTON -- With the Air Force ready to award a rich contract for a new fleet of tanker planes, the two bidders -- The Boeing Co. and a team of Northrop Grumman Corp. and Airbus parent EADS -- are engaged in guerrilla marketing.
Pentagon rules limit communications between the bidders and the Defense Department officials who will select a winner, once the companies submitted their final bids Jan. 3.
The companies get around this restriction by sending blast e-mails to reporters and trade journals widely read by Air Force officials and by advertising in specialty publications, on buses and subways and local radio stations.
It's guerrilla marketing for the contract that could top $100 billion, making it potentially one of the largest defense programs in Pentagon history. The Air Force is scheduled to award the contract as soon as the end of this month.
The subtle -- and sometimes not so subtle -- marketing campaigns aim to convince the Air Force that their respective tankers have low technical risk, one of the five official yardsticks that the service will use in determining which bidder will win the contract.
For example, Boeing officials last week touted what they said was a major technological step for their new tanker, the KC-767, by issuing a report crowing that they had conducted a nighttime refueling, a first for the KC-767 tanker.
Boeing spokesman William Barksdale said the nighttime refueling was a "huge" advancement for its airplane.
Within hours, the team consisting of Northrop Grumman and the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. derided Boeing's claim for the KC-767.
"Boeing announced today that their boom successfully passed fuel at night," said Randy Belote, a spokesman for Northrop Grumman, in an e-mail statement. "One would hope that, after more than 5 years, they have made some progress."
Japan agreed five years ago -- and Italy six years ago -- to buy Boeing tankers, but the company has encountered delays.
Accompanying the Northrop Grumman e-mail was a cartoon depicting a Boeing tanker model as a patchwork of parts and pieces of several 767 versions, with the word "Frankentanker" written along the side of the tanker caricature. Huge cartoonish stitches held the pieces together, like Mary Shelley's fictional monster.
In case anyone missed the point, Belote's e-mail asserted that the Boeing tanker offered to the Air Force "is an amalgamation of parts from 767-200/ 300/and 400 aircraft and is being comically referred to as the KC-767 Frankentanker."
The spokesman also charged that the Boeing plane's Pratt & Whitney engines were technically risky, that the company still has not delivered a tanker plane to Japan -- a year behind schedule -- and that the plane Boeing would offer the Air Force would be substantially different from those offered to Japan.
"More risk for the Air Force?" Belote asked.
Asked why the Northrop Grumman-EADS team made those charges, Belote said his team wanted to correct misperceptions about Boeing's tanker.
"We watch very closely the information that is passed around on Capitol Hill and via KC-767 supporters," Belote said. "Quite frankly, much of it fuzzes the facts and, in some cases, has been designed to misinform and mislead. We believe that 'straight talk' allows for the best competition."
Northrop Grumman-EADS is promoting its own KC-30 tanker to the Air Force.
Boeing has engaged in its own tit-for-tatism. Back in the fall, a group of retired Air Force officers hired by Boeing said that the KC-30 was technically risky in part because the Gulf Coast work force didn't have sufficient expertise to build such a plane.
The companies also get around the communications restrictions with the Air Force by taking out ads in specialty publications like "The Hill," a newspaper whose audience includes members of Congress, their staffs and executive branch officials. Both tanker rivals regularly run full-page ads that extol the virtues of their planned tankers.
If Air Force officials take the Washington-area Metro subway system to work, they may see an advertisement in the train praising one of the tankers. At the Pentagon subway stop, advertising placards often feature one of the two competing tankers.
If Air Force officials listened to Washington-area radio stations last week, they would have heard the Boeing tanker touted in an advertisement on the city's only all-news radio station.
The initial contract for 179 tankers is expected to be worth about $40 billion. With the addition of possible future tanker orders, the contract could eventually top $100 billion.
Boeing's entry, the KC-767, is based on a version of its 767 commercial airliner, while the EADS and Northrop Grumman KC-30 is based on the Airbus A330 commercial airliner.

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