WASHINGTON - Boeing Co. on Tuesday said it wants the Air Force to immediately explain why it awarded a $35 billion aerial refueling tanker contract to rival European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. and its partner, Northrop Grumman Corp.
Boeing, which has been supplying air-to-air refueling tankers to the Air Force for nearly 50 years and was widely expected to win the deal, will not decide whether to protest the decision until it is debriefed.
A March 12 debriefing is planned, an Air Force spokesman said.
But many, including some in the Pentagon, want that date moved up.
By awarding the contract to Europe-based EADS and Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman, the Air Force has touched off a furor in Congress, provoking questions about why a foreign company would receive such a high-stakes, high-dollar deal.
The response has been strongest from lawmakers whose states stood to gain jobs had Boeing won the deal.
The contract to build up to 179 tankers is the first of three Air Force awards worth as much $100 billion to replace its entire refueling tanker fleet over the next 30 years.
"It's important for us to understand how the Air Force reached their conclusion," Mark McGraw, a Boeing vice president, said in a statement. "The questions we are asking, as well as others being raised about this decision, can best be answered with a timely debrief indicating how our proposal was graded."
That sentiment was echoed on Tuesday by John Young, the Defense Department's under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. "Boeing is entitled to be debriefed," he said. "It's a matter of principle. It should be done right away."
Young said he is urging the Air Force to do the debriefing as early as Thursday.
The Air Force is also coming under pressure from Capitol Hill.
Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, both Democrats from Washington, Sens. Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts, both Republicans from Kansas, are among the lawmakers who sent a letter to top Pentagon officials also requesting an Air Force briefing this week.
The Kansas congressional delegation on Tuesday asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates to suspend its award of the tanker contract until Congress can review the decision.Boeing would have performed much of the tanker work in Everett, Wash., and Wichita, Kan.