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Analyst: Latest Air Force tanker mistake reflects pattern of bias

The latest mistake made in the U.S. Air Force’s bid to replace its fleet of aging refueling tankers appears to be a simple clerical error at first blush, Lexington Institute Loren Thompson writes in an analyst note.

Instead, it’s part of a “subtle pattern of bias against the Boeing team,” Thompson writes.

The Air Force this month mistakenly sent sensitive ratings of each competing aircraft’s warfighting effectiveness to the wrong team.  Air Force chief of staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said the two companies had reacted similarly to the receipt of the sensitive information and no proprietary data had been disclosed.

Thompson said the statements were wrong.

The EADS recipient had viewed the information, while the Boeing recipient had not, Thompson wrote. And, he said, the Boeing mission-capable rates reflected in the tables viewed by EADS were based on proprietary data.

“When the behavior is just the latest instance in a continuous pattern that always favors one side, the foundation for a legal protest is created,” Thompson writes.

So far, Thompson said, the Air Force has: delayed a deadline to help EADS complete its proposal, modified its request for proposals to eliminate secure communications requirements EADS couldn’t meet, permitted EADS to deliver late responses to engineering questions posed by evaluators, employed modeling scenarios that enable the EADS plane to use basing options not available to Boeing’s plane and now, mischaracterized the competitive advantage EADS has received through the improper release of sensitive information.

In addition, the Air Force has refused to consider a World Trade Organization ruling that the Airbus plane EADS is offering would probably not exist at all if not for $6 billion in illegal launch aid from European governments, which has let Airbus “unfairly produce and price its planes.”

The lack of consideration is “effectively rewarding EADS for its illegal behavior,” Thompson said.