Jackson Co. Leaders React To Tanker Contract Delay

By Patrice Clark - bio | email

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Jackson County Economic Director George Freeland calls the Pentagon's latest delay in the Air Force tanker contract nothing more than a political game.

"At the end of the day politics was the primary driver," Freeland said. "It represents a sequence of contradictions, and it generates some clear losers. First and foremost, our American war fighter, I think, is a loser in that the airmen will continue to fly tankers built under the Eisenhower administration."

Northrop Grumman and its European partner EADS thought they were clear winners in March, getting the $35 billion contract to build 179 KC-45 refueling planes. But after rival Boeing protested the decision, the Government Accountability Office terminated the deal.

Jackson County Supervisor and Tanker Advocate Manly Barton said the Pentagon's decision to push back the tanker bidding until the next administration takes office is a financial setback.

"Mobile County, obviously, is the biggest loser. But Jackson County, and the whole Mississippi Gulf Coast will lose some investment and lose some jobs that would have been created as part of this project."

"We are hopeful that Northrop Grumman will preserve and pursue the project, and at all turns, we will lend our support," Freeland said.

Freeland and Barton both say they hope the next president realizes how important the tankers are, not only to the economy here, but the security of our nation.

"Whether it is a Democrat or Republican, I hope they understand the urgency of this particular contract and puts it back on the front burner," Barton said.

Northrop Grumman released a statement on the Pentagon's decision:

"Northrop Grumman entered this competition in good faith and proposed the most modern, most capable tanker available, at the best value to the American taxpayer."