(VitalNews.org) – American aerospace and defense giant Lockheed Martin Corporation has announced its withdrawal from the competition to 75 or more airplane refueling tankers for the US Airforce. Previously, Lockheed Martin had teamed up with European aerospace company Airbus, and since 2018 the two had worked in tandem to create a bid that centered around the A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport. The A330 is a large military aircraft based on Airbus’ civilian transport airplane.
Airbus has confirmed that it will continue in progressing the bid without Lockheed Martin’s co-operation, although the withdrawal of its former partner raises questions around the plan’s viability. The original plan had been for Airbus to build an assembly plant for the A330’s construction in Mobile, Alabama, where it already has an aerospace complex. The aircraft would then have been flown to Marietta, Georgia, to Lockheed Martin’s main defense facility. There, they would have undergone the final stage of militarization in readiness for the US Airforce. While Airbus still plans to build an assembly plant in Mobile should it win the contract, it is unclear how the refueling tankers would be made completely ready for military use without Lockheed Martin’s input. Airbus did not provide an answer to this question in its latest statement, although Lockheed Martin said that it would consider all future endeavors on a case-by-case basis.
Rival applicant Boeing’s prospects have improved since Lockheed Martin’s withdrawal, with its shares increasing in price by 1.7% in the aftermath of the news. Boeing had previously faced a series of setbacks in its US Airforce bidding, making a string of expensive mistakes with its KC-46 tankers. The KC-46 has suffered a number of important defects, ranging from faulty video systems to a refueling boom that failed to connect the KC-46 to the aircraft it should have been refueling. These technical issues resulted in a painful loss of $7 billion to Boeing.
This competition is part of the three-stage procurement process currently being undertaken by the US Airforce with the aim of replacing hundreds of old tankers. It began in 2011 and is expected to be completed in the 2030’s.
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