WASHINGTON — Boeing Co. is threatening to drop out of the competition for a $35-billion contract to build aerial refueling tankers for the Air Force, a new aircraft expected to reshape the future of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
Boeing officials say they want four more months to assemble an offer or they would be forced to withdraw.
The aerospace manufacturer said Friday it also may file a protest on the final bids request — expected to be released early next week by the Pentagon — which could further delay an award. No final decision will be made until Boeing has a chance to review the final request, said company spokesman Daniel Beck.
"It's very clear to us this is a new competition," said Beck. "Clearly, the requirements have changed and the Defense Department is essentially asking for a different kind of plane."
Boeing lost the initial contract to Northrop Grumman Corp. and its partner, Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. The competition was reopened after government auditors found "significant errors" in the Air Force's decision.
Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, has said Air Force officials have told him that MacDill will eventually get up to 36 of the new tankers.
Those numbers would mark a significant upswing in activity at MacDill, which is currently the home base for 16 of the Eisenhower-era KC-135 Stratotankers the new plane will replace.
MacDill officials say if the base gets more than 30 new planes, it would require an expansion of infrastructure such as hangars.
Based on its review of the draft request for bids, Boeing said, it's clear the Air Force is looking for a larger-sized aircraft with greater cargo capacity and better fuel offload capabilities.
"If we don't receive sufficient time to prepare a competitive proposal, there's really little option for us than to no-bid in this competition," said Beck.
Defense consultant Jim McAleese said John Young, the Pentagon's acquisition chief, is likely to provide Boeing with a "modest" amount of time to redo its bid, but nothing that would put it beyond the current administration.
Times staff writer William R. Levesque contributed to this report.