Murtha: Process to pick new tanker fleet 'open and less subjective'

The House’s most senior defense appropriator on Thursday said that the Air Force’s process to select a new fleet of midair refueling tankers appears to be “both open and less subjective.”

Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Defense panel, was one of the first lawmakers to be briefed by Pentagon officials on the status of a new competition to build the Air Force’s much-coveted tanker aircraft. Murtha issued a written statement Thursday morning.

Boeing and a team of Northrop Grumman and EADS North America are going head to head for a second time to win the $35 billion contract. Boeing successfully protested with the Government Accountability Office the Air Force's contract award to Northrop Grumman-EADS in February 2008.

The Air Force is expected to release a draft of its solicitation by week’s end, but in the meantime Pentagon officials are briefing lawmakers on the details of that solicitation.

Among the details officials are including in their congressional briefs are stipulations to go to a fixed price for at least part of the aircraft and base the selection decision on best value for the taxpayers, among other criteria, according to a source familiar with the briefings who asked not to be quoted by name.

A bitter trade dispute between the United States and Europe over government subsidies to Airbus also will not factor into the selection, The Hill has learned. EADS is the parent company of Airbus.

Meanwhile, Murtha took issue with the Pentagon’s plan to buy 15 new aircraft per year. Murtha is pushing for 36 aircraft a year and included report language to that effect in the House’s version of the 2010 defense spending bill.

“The committee believes that it is in the best interest of the taxpayer to build 36 aircraft per year, versus the 15 per year as planned by the latest proposal,” Murtha said in his statement. “This quantity will allow for a rapid retirement of the aging fleet, avoidance of billions of dollars in maintenance and modernization costs, and will provide our airmen with a safe and modern aircraft that is essential to current and future operations.”