Pentagon chief defends tanker decision

Defense Secretary Robert Gates Tuesday defended the Air Force's selection of aerospace giant Boeing's bid for a $35 billion deal to build aerial refueling tankers. He said he does not believe that a protest of the lucrative award would be successful.

Gates's comments came a day after the losing bidder, EADS North America, said it was still weighing whether to formally protest the Air Force's decision to the Government Accountability Office, a lengthy process that would further delay the service's efforts to replace its fleet of Eisenhower-era tankers.

"We think that this was a very transparent, forthright process," Gates said at a Pentagon news conference. "Companies obviously have the opportunity under the law to protest, but I think the view in the building is, there are no grounds for a valid protest."

Officials briefed both Boeing and EADS on Monday about the decision, which the Pentagon announced last Thursday. EADS spokesman Guy Hicks said that the company is still evaluating the information the Air Force provided.

Three years ago, the Pentagon chose EADS over Boeing to build 179 wide-body jets to refuel military aircraft in flight. GAO ultimately upheld a Boeing protest, however, and the Pentagon reopened the competition.

Since then, top Pentagon officials - most recently, acquisition chief Ashton Carter - have overseen the Air Force program to ensure a fair, open, and transparent contest.

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