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Feathers already flying in third round of tanker bidding

The third competition between Northrop Grumman/EADS and Boeing to land a $35 billion contract to replace the Air Force’s ancient fleet of refueling tankers officially began last Friday. Tuesday, the first serious allegation surfaced.

A Northrop Grumman executive accused the Pentagon of sharing his company’s pricing information from the second bid — which Northrop Grumman won but was overturned after a Boeing protest — with Boeing, without returning the favor in the other direction. The first bid, won by Boeing, was thrown out after a corruption scandal blew up and sent a Boeing executive and an Air Force official to prison.

Clearly, with this much money on the line — the overall impact of the contract to the area that lands it could exceed $100 billion — both companies have their chin straps buckled extra tight.

It goes without saying (actually, Magnolia Marketplace said it recently) that the Mississippi Gulf Coast would reap untold impact cash and supplier jobs if Northrop Grumman wins the bid and ends up building the planes in Mobile.

Tuesday’s development probably is the first of many accusations and allegations Boeing and Northrop Grumman will hurl at each other before this thing is over. Stay tuned.

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