The European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) has entered the race to build the next generation of US military refuelling tankers.

The Airbus parent company was expected to not enter the competition after US partner Northrup Grumman pulled out over accusations that the Pentagon favoured Boeing’s system.

The $50bn contract was described as “a hell of an opportunity” by EADS North America chairman Ralph Crosby.

EADS’s entry into the race is a modified A330, which is already being used by some air forces, including Australia.

Boeing’s refitted 767 is viewed by many as an inferior option but is favoured by the Pentagon as it would be built in the US.