Decision on $35B tanker contract due

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.
 

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Lawmakers with a stake in the competition are expected to weigh in on the Air Force’s decision almost immediately. Boeing would do most of its tanker work in Kansas and Washington; EADS would build a production assembly in Mobile, Ala.
 
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.