Remember the $40 billion competition for the Air Force's new refueling tanker? The massive, must-have deal won by Northrop Grumman , which partnered with Airbus' European parent EADS last year, only to be overturned by a challenge from Boeing ?
One year later, the new bidding hasn't even begun. The Department of Defense tells CNBC there may be movement soon, but a decision is still pending on who will award the contract: the Air Force, or the Office of the Secretary.
What should be a fairly straightforward competition has turned into a soap opera over the last decade. One of the biggest hang-ups is the debate over whether an American military tank should be made by a European aircraft company. Northrop is the lead contractor on the bid, and much of the construction would be done in Alabama, but the plane is based on an Airbus A330. Choosing Airbus is seen, by some, as unpatriotic and bad for American jobs.
So, does EADS regret ever getting involved? "Why should we regret it? We're going to win again," laughs Ralph Crosby, the former Northrop executive who now is Chairman and CEO of EADS North America. He spoke exclusively with CNBC this week before giving a speech at LA Town Hall. Crosby says EADS has beat out Boeing in four other global tanker competitions, and, at this point, the company has no intention of changing its entrant for the U.S. competitions. As for when the bidding will restart, "We think we're getting close." But Crosby points out that the cycle of bidding may take nine months, and that's without another challenge. "Let's get on with it. I mean, these things are getting older," he says of the current tanker fleet. "It's nine years since this process was started, and it'll be another five years before we get aircraft in the inventory."