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GAO Backs Boeing’s Claims in Tanker Contract Dispute

Congressional investigators sided with Boeing Wednesday in a dispute over the awarding of a $35 billion Air Force tanker contract to competitor Northrup Grumman. A reporter discusses the decision.

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    Now, the tanker decision. Three months ago, the Air Force chose Northrop Grumman and its European partners over competitor Boeing to build the next generation of aerial refueling tankers. The contract for 179 aircraft is worth $35 billion.

    At the time, Boeing called the Air Force's decision "flawed," and they filed a protest. Well, today the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, agreed with Boeing, saying the Air Force made, quote, "significant errors that could have affected the outcome" of the competition, "did not assess the relative merits of the proposals," and "conducted misleading and unequal discussions with Boeing."

    For more on the ruling, we turn to Los Angeles Times Pentagon correspondent Peter Spiegel.

    Peter Spiegel, thank you very much for being with us.

    First of all, how important are these new aerial tankers to the Air Force, to the country, for that matter?

  • PETER SPIEGEL, Los Angeles Times:

    It's pretty critical. I mean, the Air Force has said now for almost a decade that it's its top procurement priority.

    I mean, if you go out to Afghanistan or Iraq and see the amount of material, troops, weaponry that has to be flown basically halfway around the world to get to the warzones, the key point where these planes can get to the region is the aerial refueling.

    Most of these planes were built in the 1950s, so they're basically already 50 years old. And as this slowly replacement comes online, a lot of them are still going to be in use for another 30, 40 years.

    So we're talking about planes that are in desperate need of repair and replacement that are still, even if they get the new planes tomorrow, are still going to be in the inventory for another couple of decades.