Boeing Protests Air Force Contract Decision

Boeing Co. plans today to formally protest the $35 billion contract given to European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp. to provide fuel tankers to the American military.

Boeing workers and their political supporters have been on the warpath ever since the Air Force announced the contract decision last month. Because of the challenge from Boeing, the Government Accountability Office will have 100 days to review the contract and make sure it is fair.

Air Force officials have faced criticism from lawmakers, especially members of Congress from Washington state and Kansas, where Boeing has plants.

"The American people are right to be outraged," said Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., whose state would gain jobs if Boeing won the contract.

Some political pundits and "America First" supporters have also railed against the off-shoring of American jobs and military technology.

"The Air Force is being run by idiots and they've got to get to the bottom of this. It's absolutely unconscionable," CNN political commentator Lou Dobbs said of the decision.

The Air Force says job creation wasn't considered in giving the deal to the European company and its American partner, Northrop Grumman.

"We either bring our A game or we don't bring our A game. Northrop Grumman brought their A game," Air Force Deputy Secretary Susan Payton said.

Over the next 15 years, the Air Force plans to buy 179 tanker aircraft produced by EADS and Northrop Grumman to replace its aging fleet of Boeing KC-135 tankers.

The Air Force's decision to award EADS and Northrop the contract came as a major surprise since Boeing has supplied air tankers to the military for almost 50 years.

Boeing claimed it would provide 44,000 American jobs if awarded the new contract. Northrop and EADS initially said they would provide about 25,000 American jobs, but as Boeing readied its appeal, the companies upped that prediction, saying they would support 48,000 jobs in the U.S.

Under the new contract, the tankers' airframes would be built in Europe but the final assembly of the planes would take place at a facility in Mobile, Ala., though suppliers nationwide would see job benefits also, said Northrup Grumman.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.