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Boeing, Northrop: After the Big Tanker Meeting

Northrop Grumman
AP
Northrop Grumman

Both bidders in the $35 billion tanker competition met with Pentagon officials and said their piece over the new request for bids (the "RFP"). The difference in their responses afterwards may give you a clue as to how it went.

Boeing's Dan Beck told me: "About all we can say right now is that the Boeing Tanker team met with DoD officials to discuss our comments on the draft RFP and gain further clarity in how the requirements and evaluation criteria have changed since the initial competition."

Boeing's supporters have been concerned the rules have been changed to nearly guarantee a Northrop Grumman win, again.

"We hope that it was just the beginning of a continuing dialogue as we move toward a final RFP that prescribes the right aircraft and gives appropriate weight to all of the capabilities that will be required for the evolving mission over the next several decades," Beck said.

But Beck also wanted to address stories that Boeing may drop out of the competition—or threaten to.

"Any decision on Boeing's path forward would be premature and further speculation would be counter-productive," he says. "Boeing remains committed to providing the Air Force with a next-generation tanker that meets real-world mission requirements and that is selected through a fair, open and unbiased competition that follows a realistic timetable."

Remember that last line: fair, open, unbiased, realistic timeline. You may hear those words a lot in the next few weeks.

Northrop Grumman's statement, meanwhile, was pretty much all sweetness and light. The company called the meeting "productive," and program manager Paul Meyer said, "We had a frank and open discussion."

Here's the meatiest part of his statement:

"It is clear that the Defense Department met the concerns raised by the Government Accountability Office, and the draft amendment to the KC-X Tanker Request for Proposals addresses those concerns by clarifying, but not altering the tanker requirements and specifications. It is also clear that the department recognizes the need to begin production on the next generation of aerial refueling tankers as quickly as possible....We look forward to submitting our proposal..."

The final request from the Pentagon could come out by the end of this week. Stay tuned.

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  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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