Air Force nominee: Tanker contest will be open

Erin Conaton, House Armed Services Committee staff director and President Obama's nominee for the No. 2 civilian slot in the Air Force, Thursday pledged transparency in the heated competition for aerial refueling tankers.

"My sense and my commitment is to ask questions upon confirmation that would lead to this competition being concluded to the best interests of the warfighter," Conaton said during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. "I think it's very important that this be a fair and open competition and that it be clear to those who see the results how the decision was made."

Northrop Grumman Corp. and EADS, the European consortium behind Airbus, last year won a deal worth at least $35 billion to build 179 tankers for the Air Force. But the Government Accountability Office upheld a protest filed by the Boeing Co., the losing bidder.

The Pentagon canceled the contract and recently launched a new competition for the planes. Conaton, who is expected to win easy confirmation, also told the committee, in written responses to questions, that the Air Force "must ensure that it can continue to provide long-range persistent strike capabilities."

She added that now is an "appropriate time for the Department of Defense and the Air Force to consider what options are available to continue to provide such capability."

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