There's active debate over whether Northrop Grumman actually intends to opt out of the KC-X tanker competition as a top official declared Dec. 1, 2009, with industry analysts calling it a ploy and some defense analysts and lawmakers taking the threat more seriously. Although Pentagon officials have continued to proclaim the competition is open and fair, both Northrop and Boeing have groused that it favors the other. As predicted, the latest KC-X competition is shaping up to be a long, hard slog that could delay actual fielding of a new tanker so vital to US military operations worldwide. Here, an F-15E Strike Eagle approaches a KC-135 tanker from the Mississippi Air National Guard's 186th Aerial Refueling Wing for refueling over Afghanistan Aug. 2, 2009.
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