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  (Source: Northrop Grumman)

Northrop Grumman/EADS KC-45A tanker  (Source: Northrop Grumman)
Boeing wins the battle, but the war continues with the controversial Air Force tanker program.

It looks like the ongoing battle between Northrop Grumman/EADS and Boeing over the $35B Air Force tanker contract will go on for at least another year. Northrop Grumman/EADS won the KC-X tanker competition earlier this year and it was announced that the Airbus A330-based KC-45 would replace the Air Force's existing fleet of 531 KC-135 tanker aircraft.

With foreign hands having a part in the design and construction of the KC-45, some in Congress weren't too happy with the move. "We should have an American tanker built by an American company with American workers. I can't believe we would create French [and British] jobs in place of Kansas jobs," said Todd Tiahrt, a congressman from Kansas.

Boeing filed a formal protest against the Air Force's decision with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in March. Boeing contended that it deserved the contract due to numerous errors and concessions made during the competition and noted that it provided "75 years of unmatched experience building tankers" and "offered the Air Force the best value and lowest risk tanker for its mission".

It looks as though Boeing has quite a bit of pull in Washington, because the GAO sided with Boeing’s protest. "Our review of the record led us to conclude that the Air Force had made a number of significant errors that could have affected the outcome of what was a close competition," said the GAO in a statement.

"We recommended that the Air Force reopen discussions ... obtain revised proposals, re-evaluate the revised proposals, and make a new source selection decision, consistent with our decision," the GAO continued.

Further stacking future proceedings in Boeing's favor, the GAO reported that the Air Force performed "unreasonable" cost/performance analysis with regards to the Northrop Grumman/EADS entry versus Boeing's competing entry. Had those errors not have been made; the GAO concluded that Boeing would have been the low-cost champion of the competition, and likely the overall winner.

The Air Force will in essence have to start the competition all over again to satisfy the GAO's requests – in the mean time; the aging KC-135 fleet will still take to the skies. "In theory, the air force has 60 days to answer. But in reality, it's obvious they're going to have to start over," said Lexington Institute military analyst Loren Thompson.

EADS, as expected, wasn't exactly elated with the GAO's decision. "Though we are disappointed, it's important to recognize that the GAO announcement is an evaluation of the selection process, not the merits of the aircraft," said EADA spokesman Louis Gallois.

"We will support our partner Northrop and remain confident that the KC-45 is the aircraft best suited to make the Air Force's critical mission requirements, as demonstrated by four previous competitive selections."

Not surprisingly, Boeing is ecstatic about the ruling. "We welcome and support today's ruling by the GAO fully sustaining the grounds of our protest," said Boeing tanker group VP Mark McGraw. "We look forward to working with the Air Force on next steps in this critical procurement for our warfighters."

Supporters of Boeing's protest in Congress also welcomed the GAO's decision. "The GAO's decision in the tanker protest reveals serious errors in the Air Force's handling of this critically important competition. We now need not only a new full, fair and open competition in compliance with the GAO recommendations, but also a thorough review of -- and accountability for -- the process that produced such a flawed result," said Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan).

"The GAO did its work, and the Air Force is going to have to go back and do its work more thoroughly," added Representative Ike Skelton (D-Missouri).

You can read the GAO's full report including seven areas in which it found the Air Force's decision to be flawed here.

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RE: That's not quite how it works...
By DASQ on 6/19/2008 12:46:43 PM , Rating: 2
I had a brief browsing of the protest originally, and they didn't specify exactly how much cheaper it 'would' be. In fact, they're even vaguer than that... 'over the life of the contract'. But then again, I don't have a copy of their RFP/contract with me, so I can't really comment further without undue speculation.

In reply to your claims on the aircraft themselves: All Dailytech articles and quotes therein claim the Airbus carries more fuel, can stay afloat for longer for further, and has greater volume in it's holds. The Air Force doesn't want smaller. How much more fuel efficient is the 767 effort? Aside from logistical concerns, even if the Boeing is quite a bit more fuel efficient, the Airbus can stay in the air longer anyway.

RE: That's not quite how it works...
By Keeir on 6/19/2008 1:06:05 PM , Rating: 3
All Dailytech articles and quotes therein claim the Airbus carries more fuel, can stay afloat for longer for further, and has greater volume in it's holds

Thats not in issue. The Airbus plane is significantly larger (~25%) and significantly more wieghty (~32%). I would point out that the vast majority of air refueling mission use no where near the current capacity of the 707 (which is much smaller than even the 767).

Looking at wikipedia, since neither Boeing nor Airbus are forthcomming directly of the specs of the tankers, a -200ER (a similar aircraft size as the Tanker), Has a Range of 12,200 km, and an empty wieght of 182 kips with max cargo of 214 kips. An A330-200 (again the base of the Airbus Tanker), a range of 12,500 km and an empty wieght of ~240 kips and cargo wieght of 220 kips. (Empty Wieght is minus all fuel, passengers, cargo but with the interiors)

So yep, at the expense of keeping an additional 60 kips of structure airbore, the A330-200 can carry an additional 6 kips of cargo an extra 300 kilometers than a 767-200ER. Therefore, the 767-200ER (on the surface) appears to be a much more efficient platform than a A330-200.

Oh, and a 767 is much more structurally effective than a A330, as even the airforce noted giving Boeing most of the "wins" on survivability of the aircraft, as well as any pilots/passengers.

RE: That's not quite how it works...
By robertgu on 6/19/2008 1:49:19 PM , Rating: 3
The problem I have with this "Boeing lost because their plane is smaller and EADS's plane is bigger and more capable." Is that the Air Force originally demanded the smaller aircraft!

It wasn't until the 11th hour when EADS pitched a fit that it can't/won't compete for the Air Force contract unless the Air Force changed the eval criteria to give benefit to an aircraft which was larger than the original RFP that EADS promised to continue it's bid. EADS couldn't compete with Boeing on the original RFP terms and demanded that the Air Force change them and threatened to drop out of the bidding it they didn't.

If Air Force said they wanted a larger plane on the original RFP Boeing would have used the 777 instead.

This leads me to believe that the Air Force REALLY wanted and needed a smaller aircraft (as witnessed by the original RFP) but wanted to keep Boeing "honest" by having them compete hard for the contract. Which resulted in the Air Force caving to EADS's criteria change demands to favor a larger plane the Air Force didn't want to begin with.

RE: That's not quite how it works...
By Amiga500 on 6/19/2008 2:08:05 PM , Rating: 2
If Air Force said they wanted a larger plane on the original RFP Boeing would have used the 777 instead.

No. They wouldn't have.

Boeing are capacity limited on the 777 for when the USAF needs the tankers, so that is not an option.

RE: That's not quite how it works...
By masher2 on 6/19/2008 3:17:20 PM , Rating: 2
> "Boeing are capacity limited on the 777 for when the USAF needs the tankers..."

Northrop hasn't even built the manufacturing facility to be used for their version of the tanker yet, so I don't think your argument here carries much weight. Boeing's chances of meeting the timeline with the 777 are at least as good as the KC-45s.

By Amiga500 on 6/19/2008 6:30:07 PM , Rating: 2
It is the assembly plant being built in the states. Manufacturing is already up and running.

Airbus have the capacity, Boeing don't (not while meeting their cost projections anyway).

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