By John T. Bennett - 02/24/11 04:24 PM EST
U.S. defense officials are expected to set off a firestorm on Capitol Hill later Thursday when they announce whether U.S.-based Boeing or the European firm EADS has won a $35 billion contract to build aerial tankers.
The rival aircraft makers have been vying for the 179-plane deal for nearly a decade, a competition that has turned ugly at times. Executives with both firms have lashed out at their competitor and enlisted the help of their congressional allies.
Defense insiders are predicting an EADS win.
Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute says that firm’s A330-based tanker received a better score on a key Air Force evaluation test. What’s more, analysts and congressional aides say, EADS appears to have offered a lower cost in a competition set up largely as a price shootout.
Boeing’s congressional proponents in recent weeks have sounded an ever-louder drumbeat that EADS receives tens of billions of dollars more in government aid, which allows it to offer a lower price.
The Chicago-based firm’s allies on Capitol Hill also have said if the White House is serious about “winning the future” — a mantra of the president since his State of the Union address — his administration should give the award to the American company.
As the U.S. economy has shed jobs, the tanker race has been linked to job-creation aims. Boeing and its supporters say its KC-X tanker program would bring 50,000 “American jobs” across the country. EADS has said if it wins, it would “support” 48,000 U.S. jobs.
For the European firm, a victory would provide a level of vindication. EADS, then teamed with Northrop Grumman, was awarded the contract in February 2008, but that decision was voided after government auditors sustained a Boeing protest.
Congressional aides, analysts and industry officials expect the losing company will protest the decision.