Reports that Airbus' parent company is lobbying the Pentagon to extend the deadline for Air Force refueling tankers so it can bid has riled some members of Kansas' congressional delegation.
Northrop Grumman announced Monday that it was pulling out of the tanker competition, saying the Air Force's proposal favors Boeing's smaller tanker. Northrop was teaming with the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. to offer a tanker based on an Airbus A330.
Its withdrawal leaves Boeing, which is using a 767 as its platform, as the only bidder.
Talk of delaying the competition is unacceptable, said Sen. Sam Brownback in a statement.
"We cannot have different sets of rules for foreign and domestic competitors," Brownback said. "EADS can either choose to bid or not, but it should not expect the United States' help in entering the competition."
If EADS can't meet the Air Force's deadlines and requirements, it's time to award the contract to an American company, said U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt.
Meanwhile, French and British leaders on Friday accused the U.S. of protectionism.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the Pentagon was favoring Boeing.
"This is not the right way for the United States to treat its European allies," Sarkozy said. "If they want to be spearheading the fight against protectionism, they shouldn't be setting the wrong example."
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was disappointed with the situation.
"We believe in free trade; we believe in open markets; we believe in open competition," Brown said.
This is the third time the Air Force has tried to get a contract to replace its fleet of Eisenhower-era tankers. In the last round, Northrop-EADS initially was awarded the contract. However, that was overturned by the Government Accountability Office after Boeing appealed.
Lexington Institute defense analyst Loren Thompson said the current situation isn't about protectionism. Instead, it's about fixing what was a flawed process.
"Critics have conveniently overlooked the fact that the Airbus plane won... because the government conducted an incompetent, unprofessional source selection," Thompson said.
Critics should take a close look at the solicitation, he said.
The standards are spelled out in "excruciating detail and there is not the slightest hint of bias," he said. Northrop's offering could easily have met all 372 performance requirements.
But the Northrop-EADS team didn't have a plane that was cost-competitive with the Boeing 767. Even with subsidies, an Airbus tanker would be more expensive to build and operate.
Northrop's strategy had always been to convince the Air Force it needed a bigger plane, but the Air Force decided to seek a simple replacement for the existing tankers, Thompson said.