The USAF desperately needs new tankers. The KC-135 fleet was bought when Eisenhower was President. They've served long and well but even the best maintained vehicles will eventually show that it is time for retirement. Occasionally someone will suggest that the days of manned aircraft in combat are over, but we are still at least 25 years from that sort of capability in the UAV fleet. The wetware of a combat aircraft still can't be replaced with a micro-processor and a teen-aged video gamer in a trailer half a world away.
The process for buying new tankers has been disastrous. The first iteration started with an apparent assumption that Boeing was the only American firm left that could build a replacement. The no-bid contract came unraveled when the highest ranking AF procurement executive got caught in a kick-back scheme that was going to net her a huge payday and a corner office at Boeing for the remainder of her years.
The lease-back plan got shelved and a competitive RFP was let. Surprisingly a consortium of Northrop/Grumman and EADS, the builder of Airbuses, was chosen over Boeing by the USAF. The bleating from Boeing was incredible. Challenges, lawsuits and political leveraging of the highest order were called into play. Full page ads in newspapers across the country decried the out-sourcing of American military aircraft to a "French" company. It somehow asked you to ignore Northrop, deny the 45,000 American jobs and new factory in Alabama, and don't notice the 116 separate contractors which would be supplying components in the production. Boeing was "American" and EADS wasn't.
The contract win was vacated and another more restrictive RFP was released for a do-over. A couple of weeks ago Northrop conceded that the new parameters had effectively negated their ability to submit a realistic and competitive proposal.
So, now we've got this:
If You Didn't Like French, How About Russian!
That certainly underlines the concept of globalization, doesn't it? Of course there wouldn't be any American factory involved I presume. Consider all of those US defense dollars flowing into the Russian economy!
In a reasonable reaction it appears that Northrop will now reconsider whether or not to submit a proposal. I've got to think that the Russian bid will certainly make a US produced version of an originally French aircraft look at least a little bit less threatening.