A decision to award the long-awaited Air Force aerial refueling contract is expected this week, two senior defense officials said at an aerospace and defense conference.
"We'll roll-off the KC-X, hopefully, at the end of this month," Maj. Gen. David Scott, U.S. Air Force director of operational capability requirements, told Defense News last week at the conference sponsored by Aviation Week magazine.
Pentagon comptroller Robert Hale reiterated that.
"We're asking for $900 million for the KC-X tanker, hopefully to make an award within the month," Hale told Defense News.
Leeham Cos. managing director Scott Hamilton said he expects an announcement after the stock market closes Friday.
Some analysts and consultants think EADS, parent company of Airbus, will win.
"Boeing executives think they will lose and EADS is optimistic," Hamilton said in a report.
The Department of Defense and the Air Force have said they aren't interested in splitting the $35 billion contract between the two bidders, but politically it's the only answer that works, Hamilton said.
Boeing and EADS say they would create a similar number of jobs with the contract.
Boeing said winning the contract would support 50,000 U.S. jobs directly and indirectly; EADS says its win would support 48,000 U.S. jobs.
Boeing said its KC-767 tanker is closer in size to KC-135 tankers currently in operation. That requires less construction costs than the larger KC-45 and lets it park more airplanes on the ramp.
EADS says its tanker will deliver more fuel, cargo and troops.
Boeing's advantage, Hamilton said, is its experienced work force and mature plant. EADS will have to hire employees and train them to assemble the tanker at a plant it would build in Mobile, Ala.
Boeing's KC-767 tanker is better suited for the European theater, he said, and the larger Airbus KC-45 is better suited for the Pacific.
EADS and Airbus nations are NATO allies under U.S. law and, therefore, must be allowed to bid on U.S. defense projects. NATO allies who bid on U.S. defense projects must be considered as if they were U.S. companies, Hamilton said.
"Even if Boeing wins, U.S. taxpayers have EADS to thank for a lower price and a better airplane than would have been the case without competition," Hamilton said.
It's the Air Force's third attempt to secure a tanker contract, which has involved scandal, intense lobbying and high tensions.
Delays in the tanker competition have allowed the bidders to improve their planes from the original offerings, Hamilton said.
In 2008, a Northrop Grumman-EADS team was awarded the tanker contract, but it was overturned after the Government Accountability Office ruled the competition had been handled unfairly.
Since then, Boeing has improved the tanker through its international tanker for Japan and Italy, Hamilton said.
Airbus also had time to mature the KC-30A being developed for the Australian Air Force, he said.
Boeing first won the contract in 2003, but the deal was scuttled amid an ethics scandal.