All join round and mingle fine
Shake hands now -- no kissin', mind
Choose your partners, then dance 'round

Love that Pentagon Hoedown

Rarely has the world of defense contracting more resembled a barnyard dance than this week. A few weeks ago, as you may recall, I regaled you with the latest news from the presidential helicopter contest. Having seen its previous version of the aircraft grounded by cost overruns, Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) ditched partner AgustaWestland in April and announced it will bid anew for the contract, this time with United Technologies (NYSE: UTX) as its partner. In the new pairing, United Technologies will provide the aircraft -- an H-92 medium-lift helicopter -- while Lockheed plays the role of "systems integrator," installing every gadget on the president's wish list.

Not so fast, partner
It will, that is, if it wins the contract. There's just one problem with that: Boeing (NYSE: BA). The company Lockheed beat out to build "Marine One" last time around is back in the race this month. And who do you think it brought to the dance, but Lockheed's old swain, AgustaWestland!

Leaving aside the usual oddsmaking (but for the record, most analysts seem to favor Boeing), this sets up a, shall we say, "interesting" situation for both lead actors in this saga. Lockheed must now backtrack on its prior claims that the AgustaWestland whirlybird is the best plane for the job. Meanwhile, if Boeing wishes to woo the Pentagon with its favored aircraft (a cousin of the EH101 that won last round), it must hold hands with a European defense company as its partner.

Simultaneously, of course, Boeing is running 'round Congress, ringing a bell and shouting "Alarm!" about the risk of allowing a European defense company to bid against it and domestic partners Honeywell (NYSE: HON) and Spirit AeroSystems (NYSE: SPR) on the KC-X Tanker contract. (By the way, do you remember who else Boeing's partnering with on its KC-X bid? That's right: United Technologies. This story just gets better and better.)

In the end, I predict that the helicopter that won last time 'round (now on Boeing's team) will most likely win this time as well -- so long as Boeing keeps its bidding reasonable. But don't let knowing the winner ahead of time spoil your fun. This dance-off is going to be a blast.

Spirit AeroSystems Holdings is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems selection, but Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.