At a news conference announcing the draft request for proposal (RFP) covering the tanker contract, a Pentagon spokesperson said that Boeing and its competitor – the team of Northrop Grumman and Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defence and Space (EADS) – would have 45 days to submit revisions to their proposals. The Defense Department might issue a final RFP sometime during the week of Aug. 25.

“We would then hope to close discussions around the end of November [or] early December, request a best and final offer – or what we now term final proposal revisions – in the first week in December, and complete our evaluations and award right around New Year’s Eve,” said Shay Assad, the Defense Department’s director of procurement and acquisitions policy, during the news conference.

Boeing spokesman Dan Beck told the Washington Post that his company needs six months to put together a new tanker bid. Some of the additional time is needed to conduct an engineering analysis to meet revised Air Force specifications. If the Defense Department doesn’t permit more time for Chicago-based Boeing to prepare its bid, Boeing may consider not bidding at all, Beck said.

Boeing will be meeting with aircraft procurement officials Aug. 26 at the Defense Department to go over the draft RFP.

Timetable, RFP guidelines ‘smack of Air Force bias’

One frequent congressional supporter of Boeing, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., has argued that the revised bid requirements and speedy RFP timeline will favor the Northrop bid. In a news blog, Akin said that the new guidelines “smack of Air Force bias” in favor of the Northrop bid. Akin is the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

Boeing, meanwhile, says that its KC-767 tanker, which it offered to the Air Force in its original tanker bid, provides major cost advantages over the proposed Northrop Grumman-EADS tanker package – especially if fuel prices continue to soar. In a press release, Boeing asserted that “the U.S. Air Force could pay as much as $44 billion more in fuel bills over 40 years to operate a fleet of 179 Airbus A330-200 aerial refueling tankers, compared with a similar number of tankers based on the Boeing 767-200ER.” The assessment was based on a Conklin & de Decker Aviation Information study, funded by Boeing.

The Defense Department aims to replace 179 Eisenhower-era aerial refueling planes in this latest re-bidding. The tanker contract could be worth as much as $100 billion over the next two decades to the winning team.

In June, the Government Accountability Office outlined “significant errors” that the Air Force made in the original tanker award in February to the Northrop consortium.