Franco-German company EADS, owner of Airbus, has won a contract to build refuelling aircraft for the US Air Force, worth up to $40bn (£20bn).
EADS joined with US firm Northrop Grumman to compete against Boeing for the lucrative deal to build 179 new aircraft over the next 10 to 15 years.
The winning plane is based on the Airbus A330 and will be assembled in Alabama, creating 25,000 jobs.
US company Boeing had been emphasising its home-grown credentials.
"The best for America's war fighters and America's workers," Boeing claimed in advertising running in the days leading up to the announcement.
But EADS and Northrop Grumman said their KC-30 plane had a "longer range", with the ability to carry 45,000 more pounds of fuel than Boeing's plane.
"It is the first step in our critical commitment to recapitalise our ageing fleet to move, supply and position assets anywhere," said Air Force General Duncan McNab.
"In this global air force business, the critical element for air bridge, global intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and global strike is the tanker," he said.
The initial contract for the tanker, called the KC-45A, is to develop four test aircraft for $1.5bn, the US Air Force said.
"The KC-45A will provide significantly greater air refuelling capabilities than the current fleet of Eisenhower-era KC-135s it will begin replacing," the Air Force said in a statement.
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