A new twist in the Air Force's 10-year effort to build an aerial refueling tanker may bring a bid from a Russian state-owned aerospace company for the $35 billion tanker contract, according to the company's U.S. attorney.
The company, United Aircraft Corporation will create a joint venture between a still to be announced U.S. contract company and UAC-America, according to John C. Kirkland, a Los Angeles, California-based lawyer representing UAC. Kirkland would not identify the American partner.
"The Russians spoke with Hillary Clinton today about it," Kirkland said.
While no mention was made of the tanker bid by either Secretary of State Clinton or Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin when they met Friday, Putin did urge greater access for Russian companies in the U.S. market.
"As far as our economic cooperation is concerned, certainly our major companies are very much interested in such a cooperation and they're expecting us to support them," Putin said to Clinton. "A message should be sent that they are welcome both in the economy of the United States and of Russia."
"We would very much like to get into specifics about how to remove barriers and open opportunities," replied Clinton.
The Russian-American joint venture would be based in Los Angeles, Kirkland said, but he said the aircraft could be built anywhere in the country.
Kirkland said the aircraft the company would put forward is based on the Russian Ilyushin Il-96, a four-engine commercial airliner.
Also on Friday, European aircraft maker EADS said it remains interested in bidding the tanker contract despite its U.S. partner, Northrop-Grumman, dropping out of the competition earlier this month.
"Yesterday the U.S. Department of Defense indicated it would welcome a proposal from EADS North America as prime contractor for the KC-X tanker competition," EADS said Friday.
"This is a significant development. EADS is assessing this new situation to determine if the company can feasibly submit a responsive proposal to the department's request for proposal," the company said.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the Department of Defense has received a request by EADS to extend the time to submit a proposal by 90 days.
"The department is considering it," Whitman said.
Until Friday's announcement, Boeing was the only company to bid on the contract.
Northrop and European partner EADS, the parent company of Airbus, originally won the contract in February 2008, but a protest by Boeing reversed that decision, forcing the Air Force to change the requirements for the plane. Northrop dropped its bid on March 8.