The best tanker won

Ronald D. Sugar is chairman and chief executive officer of Northrop Grumman Corp

After a lengthy competition between Northrop Grumman Corp. and Boeing Co., the Air Force has selected Northrop Grumman to build 179 aerial refueling tankers. This program is long overdue, as the Air Force urgently needs to replace its fleet of Eisenhower-era tankers.

The Air Force described the selection process as one of the most rigorous and transparent in Defense Department history. But Boeing has protested the choice to the Government Accountability Office, which is expected to issue a decision in June on whether the Air Force followed applicable procurement laws and regulations.

Northrop Grumman believes that the GAO will affirm the awarding of the contract to our corporation.

Although this is a big win for Northrop Grumman -- the KC-45 tanker contract is valued at about $35 billion -- it is an even bigger win for California's aerospace industry. In California, the KC-45 will support more than 7,500 direct and indirect jobs with 43 suppliers and generate more than $360 million in annual economic benefit.

However, some supporters of the Boeing bid are calling to reverse the selection of Northrop Grumman on purely political grounds, which will further delay the program.

Since the award announcement, much misinformation has been circulated in the halls of Congress and repeated in the media. Some have labeled the KC-45 project a "French" tanker because one of Northrop Grumman's partners on it is the North American subsidiary of EADS, parent of Airbus. Others have charged that awarding the contract to Northrop Grumman will hurt America's defense industrial base and send jobs overseas. A few legislators want the contract decision overturned or funding blocked.

Let me set the record straight. Northrop Grumman is an American defense technology company with 120,000 employees, approximately 30,000 in California. Our headquarters are in Los Angeles. Northrop Grumman built the B-2 stealth bomber, America's nuclear aircraft carriers, the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft and hundreds of other defense systems. And we are the prime contractor for the KC-45.

Let there be no doubt: Northrop Grumman won this competition fair and square. The Air Force carefully followed the laws Congress passed and ran the most carefully scrutinized selection process ever conducted. The Air Force cited the two most important reasons for selecting Northrop Grumman's KC-45: It provides the best capability for our war-fighters and the best value for American taxpayers. Any effort by Congress to undo the award to Northrop Grumman would have unprecedented long-term implications for our national defense and for the industry that supports it, because such efforts would clearly undermine the integrity of the government procurement process. Changing the rules all agreed to play by after the game is over is simply not the American way.

The KC-45 tanker will create or support 48,000 American jobs with 230 suppliers in 49 states. Our KC-45 teammates include EADS North America, as well as General Electric Aviation, Sargent Fletcher Inc., Honeywell International Inc., Parker Aerospace, AAR Cargo Systems, Telephonics Corp. and Knight Aerospace Products Inc. Despite the rhetoric coming from some quarters, no U.S. workers will lose their jobs and no current U.S. jobs are being sent to Europe.

Some critics fault the KC-45 tanker for its foreign content, but the fact is that all commercial jetliners today, and indeed many major U.S. weapon systems, are built from a global supply chain and contain parts produced by U.S. allies. In this bid, Boeing's and Northrop Grumman's tankers are based on wide-body commercial aircraft. Boeing's would have been assembled in Washington state and included parts made in Japan, Italy, Britain and Canada. Northrop Grumman's KC-45, which will be assembled in new factories in Mobile, Ala., is based on the A330 commercial airliner developed by EADS. It will have parts made in the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Spain, but about 60% of it will be U.S. content from U.S. suppliers.

While we await the GAO's decision, let's work to prevent political intervention, based on emotion and misinformation, from overriding the Air Force's careful procurement process. What we need to do is focus on providing the best tanker for the brave men and women defending our nation.

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