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Defense Department delays decision on tanker replacement

The Defense Department will wait until the next administration to award a disputed $35 billion contract to build a new fleet of aerial refueling tankers.

Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., says the Pentagon has canceled the latest round of bidding between Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp. for the 179 planes, and now plans to hold a new competition next year.

Northrop won the contract earlier this year, but the competition was reopened after the Government Accountability Office found fault with the decision.

Gov. Bob Riley issued a statement shortly after the Defense Department’s announcement; “I strongly disagree with this decision and find it absolutely bewildering. The air Force has been trying for six years now to replace its aging fleet of tankers. Yet another delay does nothing except put our warfighters at greater risk. For that reason alone, I can’t understand why anyone would make this decision.”

The project, slated for Mobile, would include a $600 million plant and about 1,500 jobs in Alabama. The deal is worth $30 billion to $40 billion over 10 to 15 years and, according to reports, could be even more lucrative — it is the first of three deals to replace the Air Force’s entire fleet of nearly 600 tankers.