WASHINGTON Feb 4 Pentagon officials will
review a $40 billion Air Force program to buy 179 jet-refueling
planes on Feb. 22, more than a week later than expected, a
spokeswoman for the U.S. Defense Department said on Monday.
The meeting of the Defense Acquisition Board, headed by
chief Pentagon weapons buyer John Young, had already slipped to
Feb. 13 from late January.
The latest delay means the Air Force may not be able to
announce a winner by the end of February in the bitter
competition between Boeing Co (BA.N) and a Northrop Grumman
Corp (NOC.N)-EADS EAD.PA team.
Top Air Force officials are still hoping to meet that
target, but Lt. Gen. Donald Hoffman, the top uniformed officer
involved in Air Force acquisition, warned as early as December
that there was a reasonable chance of delay to March or later.
"We'll take whatever amount of time it takes to get to the
right answer," Hoffman said at the time.
The Air Force, stung by several successful protests
involving other big contracts, is working hard to ensure the
tanker competition does not result in a whole new set of
On Friday, the Government Accountability Office handed it
another setback when it rejected the service's request to
reconsider a ruling that faulted the service's handling of a
$1.2 billion contract with Boeing for depot maintenance of the
aging fleet of KC-135 refueling aircraft.
The tanker deal is being closely watched by lawmakers and
other watchdog groups after an earlier $23.5 billion Air Force
plan to buy 100 Boeing 767s fell apart amid a procurement
scandal that sent two former Boeing executives to prison.
"The Air Force wants this to be the cleanest competition
possible," said Loren Thompson, an analyst with the Lexington
Institute who has close ties to the Air Force.
"Although it's eager to make a decision, the Air Force is
willing to wait a long time to announce a winner if there are
any ambiguities that need to be resolved," he said.
Before the contract can be awarded, the Air Force's "source
selection authority," in this case Air Force chief weapons
buyer Sue Payton, must finalize a decision picking the winning
plane, and the Pentagon board must approve the overall
acquisition strategy, which includes funding, schedule and
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; editing by John Wallace)