Boeing NewGen Tanker  (Source: Boeing)
Boeing tanker uses flight deck from Dreamliner

One of the most lucrative military projects ever offered by the Pentagon is the contract to replace the aging fleet of flying tankers for the Air Force. The Air Force has been looking to replace the fleet of KC-135 aircraft with new and improved planes for years and the project has been a hotbed of controversy.

This week Boeing has announced that it will offer its NewGen Tanker to the Air Force in attempt to win the huge contract to replace the Air Force KC-135 fleet. Boeing has dubbed the new tanker "NewGen" because of the state of the art systems that are integrated to meet future mission requirements. These features include a digital flight deck taken from the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Boeing twists the knife in Northrop's back by adding that the screens in the NewGen tanker are 75% larger than those in the Airbus A330, on which Northrop's proposed tanker is based.

The Boeing NewGen tanker will also have a new generation fly-by-wire boom with an expanded refueling envelope and an increased fuel offload rate. Boeing also states that the aircraft will meet all Air Force requirements for refueling operations and reduced workload for crew. Boeing also reports that the NewGen Tanker provides full access to the unrestricted flight envelope of the aircraft to the crew rather than allowing the computer to limit combat maneuverability.

Boeing also claims that its aircraft will save taxpayers over $10 billion in fuel costs during the aircraft's 40-year service life thanks to the 24% fuel savings compared to similar aircraft. Boeing will deliver the proposal for the tanker by May 10, which is within the 75-day window that bidders have to turn in proposals for aircraft.

President and CEO of Boeing Defense Dennis Muilenburg said, "Having supplied tankers to the Air Force for the past 60 years, Boeing has drawn on its unmatched aerial-refueling experience to thoroughly review and evaluate the KC-X solicitation issued by the Air Force. We respect and understand the KC-X requirements, and appreciate the importance of this program for the United States and its warfighters. We intend to bid for the honor to work with our Air Force customer to replace the existing fleet of KC-135 aircraft with a new-generation, multi-role tanker in a fair and transparent acquisition process."

Northrop Grumman, EADS was originally granted the win for the lucrative contract worth an estimated $35 billion in March of 2008. The entire bid process seemed to be over until the other bidder for the contract -- Boeing -- filed a protest against the Northrop win claiming that the process used to award the contract to Northrop had "serious flaws" and the protest ultimately resulted in the biding and RFP process starting over.

In February 2010, the Pentagon released a new Request for Proposals (RFP) for the tanker aircraft and Northrop Grumman, EADS was not happy with the new proposals. According to the aircraft giant, the new RFP leaned so heavily towards the Boeing KC-767 proposal that there was little reason for Northrop to offer an aircraft in the bidding process. Northrop claimed that the new changes to the RFP made the Airbus A330-based KC-45A that it won the original RFP with financially unsuitable for the company. Northrop threatened to withdraw from the bidding process if changes weren’t made. The Pentagon stated if it only had one bidder for the tanker contract, it would continue with the process.

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