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Extended Interview: Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, recounts how Northrop Grumman garnered the Air Force's contract for building new air tankers, and how his state would benefit.

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    Senator Shelby, let's go back to the beginning of this process … what were you thinking might happen for Alabama in those early stages of getting this tanker built?


    Well, you know actually I didn't know but we were always hopeful that the proposal by Northrop Grumman/[European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co.] sounded to me like a good proposal, a newer body, you know that is the mainframe of the aircraft with a little larger that would carry more fuel, more people, more cargo than the 767 proposal and I thought we might have a chance there, but you know you don't know.

    At the end of the day it's up to the Air Force to evaluate these proposals, because they're the customer. They're buying this for the war fighter. They're buying it for future years and I always believe it shouldn't be a political decision. It shouldn't be made by us. It should be made by the Air Force, or the Army or the Marines or the Navy that have expertise in this area. And at the end of the day the Air Force selected the proposal by Northrop Grumman/EADS and you're familiar with why they claim they made that selection.


    What's their presence now in your state and what would this contract mean?


    Well, they have a presence. They have built a design engineering center in Mobile, Ala. They've been contemplating this. They have been working on some smaller planes dealing with surveillance for the Coast Guard, but this is much bigger deal. This would be, mean a lot to our state. It would mean that Toulouse, France, Seattle, Wash., and Mobile, Ala., would be the three big assemblies for airplanes in the world.

    So it would mean a lot of jobs, but most of the jobs would be supply jobs all over the United States, not just in Alabama. Probably they would be a couple of thousand jobs, more or less, directly connected to the assembly of the plane, putting it all together and so forth. But there would be other suppliers, I think in 48 states, 49 states. And all over the world that would make things that would go into this plane that would be put together in Mobile, Ala.