Politico’s editors may find partisan battles enticing, but the truth of this latest development lies more in the peculiarities of the deal Northrop cut with its European partner EADS/Airbus and less with which party controls key committees in Washington.
Northrop had been hinting for months before last week’s announcement that it might not bid on the tanker deal. One of the key reasons Northrop mentioned was that they felt the specifications for the tanker in the RFP were biased in favor of Boeing. Northrop was planning to offer an Airbus plane that was simply too big and ill equipped for what the Air Force needs. Northrop’s French partner actually began a campaign to criticize the U.S. Military for those specs -- something reminiscent (and not in a good way) of the long history of French criticism of U.S. defense policies.
What’s more, the Northrop/Airbus partnership was beginning to unravel under the weight of a preliminary finding by the World Trade Organization that the Airbus plane offer had benefited from illegal EU subsidies, something that would in all likelihood have disqualified the plane from the bidding process when the finding is made permanent in a coming final WTO report.
Is the battle between Boeing and EADS over? It’s unclear. A shadowy group called Build Them Both –- a group that does not disclose its funding –- is urging President Obama to step in and give each company a piece of the deal. This is an even worse idea for the taxpayers but apparently a viable option for the time being.