Pentagon Sets Tanker Contract Start Date

Bidders for major $35 billion tanker project must be ready to start the contract on Nov. 12, the Pentagon announced Tuesday.

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Pentagon is telling bidders for a major tanker project to be ready to start the contract on Nov. 12.

The contract is worth at least $35 billion to build 179 refueling jets. Bids are expected from Boeing Co. and European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said on Tuesday that the Pentagon still hopes to award the contract in the fall, but that it set the Nov. 12 start date so that bidders could plan around it.

The request for proposals calls for the contract to be awarded on Aug. 12. That has appeared unlikely since the Pentagon extended the bidding deadline by two months, until July 9, so that EADS could bid.

The Nov. 12 date was set in an update on the tanker posted on a federal procurement website on Thursday. It includes a question about the estimated date the contract will be awarded. The answer says bidders should "prepare their proposals assuming a contract start date" of Nov. 12. Morrell said the contract start date is not the same as the date it will be awarded.

The Pentagon has said it will try to compress the time between when the bids come in and when it picks a winning bidder.

"We\'ve always said it would be in the fall, and that still remains the case," Morrell said. The Pentagon wants to "keep the overall program on schedule and get our warfighters this much-needed capability."

The Air Force needs to replace its KC-135 refueling tankers, which date to the 1950s. It has been trying to pick someone to make the new tanker since 2003.

Boeing shares fell $1.97, or 2.7 percent, to $72.43 in afternoon trading.