Can anyone beat Boeing (NYSE: BA)? At this stage in the KC-X Tanker Saga, it's looking exceedingly unlikely -- but give EADS an A for effort.

Boeing's across-the-pond-archrival suffered a significant setback last month when best buddy Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC) stomped out of the KC-X competition in a huff, complaining that the Pentagon's "revised source selection process" was stacked against 'em and would stick the American taxpayer with a "less capable tanker" than the Airbus A330 variant it had been pitching. That left EADS dateless and forlorn, standing alone at the Pentagon prom.

But with $50 billion at stake, EADS isn't ready to leave the dance just yet. The Pentagon has promised to extend its deadline for bids submission by 60 days if EADS wants to give it another go, and according to Reuters, the Euro-plane-maker is going to try and do just that. EADS will probably try to "get the band back together," tapping the initial, Northrop-led subcontracting team of General Electric (NYSE: GE) and Honeywell (NYSE: HON) to participate.

But with the U.S. still struggling to overcome a jobless recovery, just subcontracting from the local talent pool won't be enough. EADS needs a figurehead. A red-white-and-blue-colored fig leaf. A company it can hide behind, characterizing its KC-X bid as actually being led by a U.S. company ... with just a bit of foreign help. (How much? Um, about 87% of the plane's content.)

Any volunteers?
Although its putative partners are keeping mostly mum, Reuters reports EADS has asked each of BAE Systems, Raytheon (NYSE: RTN), and L-3 Communications (NYSE: LLL) to team up and try to tackle Boeing. As of this writing, there have been no takers (at least none willing to say so publicly). Pundits point to L-3's role in building the C-27J Joint Cargo Aircraft as evidence that it's best suited for the figurehead role.

"Come heavy ... or not at all"
Personally, though, I've got a better candidate. If EADS is serious about winning this competition -- and not just wasting shareholders' money on a frivolous, fruitless exercise in vanity -- there's really only one company deserving a place on its short list: Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT).

Because when it comes to beating Boeing on plane contracts, there's really no one better than Lockheed. It plucked the F-22 Raptor, and its victory on the F-35 Lightning left Boeing thunderstruck. If EADS is really "in it to win it" this time, it's gotta go Lockheed ... or bust.

So EADS has its work cut out for it this time. Boeing will probably win KC-X. But who's the hands-down best bargain in the defense industry? Motley Fool Rule Breakers knows the answer. Take a free, 30-day trial and find out.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.