Dicks prefers U.S. firms not join EADS on tanker

The House’s top defense appropriator indicated Wednesday that he would prefer that U.S. companies not partner with European conglomerate EADS for the Air Force’s new midair refueling tanker fleet.

“If they ask me, I am surely going to tell them what I think about it. I would hope that they wouldn’t,” said Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee and a strong supporter of Boeing.

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EADS North America is on the verge of announcing whether it would bid for the tanker contract against Boeing.

The European conglomerate has been reaching out to U.S. companies to bring on as suppliers to install the sensitive technologies needed on the new tanker aircraft. Among the names bandied about in the defense industry are L-3 Communications and Raytheon, but their participation is uncertain at this point.

Dicks told The Hill on Wednesday that he would prefer that U.S. companies not agree to partner with EADS North America, but he stressed that the companies have to make the decision on their own.

“Any company has to make these decisions on their own,” Dicks said.

The new chairman of the Defense panel said that he hoped EADS North America would decide not to bid for the $35 billion tanker contract and compete against Boeing. 

Should the company decide to bid, Dicks said that he would not pursue any legislative steps to prevent EADS from competing.

“I do not think that would be effective; I am not sure it would work,” Dicks told reporters after a lunch on Capitol Hill sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association on Wednesday.

William Lynn, the deputy secretary of Defense, told those attending the forum that EADS is on “the verge of a decision” on whether to bid.

“We are going to know quite soon,” Lynn said.

EADS was initially expected to announce its decision this week, but that announcement is now expected next week.

The European aerospace and defense conglomerate has been publicly silent over the last week about its plans to challenge rival Boeing for the $35 billion contract after Pentagon officials announced they would be willing to give EADS a 60-day extension to submit its bid pending its official notification that it wants to compete.

EADS had requested an extension of at least 90 days.

EADS has been vying for the lucrative contract for nearly five years; securing it would solidify the company’s standing in the U.S. defense market.

EADS had been partnered with Northrop Grumman, but the U.S. defense giant decided to withdraw from the competition, leaving EADS to make the decision on whether to offer a solo bid.

Meanwhile, Boeing said it was reviewing all its options after the Pentagon announced that it would extend the deadline if EADS makes a formal notification of its intent to compete. Boeing was viewed as the sole contractor for the tanker after Northrop withdrew from the competition.

The $35 billion contract could also be significant for Boeing, which has suffered setbacks on several major programs: Boeing’s portion of the Army’s former Future Combat Systems has been scaled down; the Pentagon does not want to buy more C-17 cargo planes; Boeing also is taking a hit on some of its missile defense programs. Additionally, Boeing had a large stake in the F-22 fighter jet program, which the Pentagon capped at 187 planes in a high-profile congressional battle last year.