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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 Misty Dingos on 6/19/2008 12:54:00 PM , Rating: 3
OK because I am nice and I like to help people I will help you out here, because you are seriously confused.

Smaller tanker as a benefit is simply a bogus argument. The only places USAF tankers park/land/deploy to are fully capable airbases or airports. These are big places. PSAB in Saudi Arabia is a good example. Middle of nowhere yet even the largest aircraft in the world can work out of there. Why you ask. Well that is because war is very unpredictable and you over plan and over build and yes over buy. You are never going to park a tanker at a base that you can’t land a C5 at. Which is one of the largest aircraft in the world. Why is that? In case you need to bring a part to a broken tanker. You fly the parts in on a big plane. So if the big plane can’t land there you can’t park you tanker there either.

So smaller tankers are a waste of money time and space for military uses. You need more of them to do the same work. You have more of them to break. You need more guys to fix them. You have to keep more parts on hand to do the repairs. When it comes to tankers small is not an asset. Unless you are planning on working from an aircraft carrier. Which neither the Boeing nor EAD aircraft have as a requirement. If they could that would be one big ass super carrier!

I am so glad I could help you out with this since you were very confused.

RE: That's not quite how it works...
By DASQ on 6/19/2008 12:57:59 PM , Rating: 2
Good points, I never thought about that actually.

Would the Boeing's smaller size even really change the actual % of airbases it would actually use?

RE: That's not quite how it works...
By 1078feba on 6/19/2008 3:21:39 PM , Rating: 3
Ok, let me help YOU out.

As someone who has worked in Marine Aviation for over a decade, you are patently incorrect. Well, at least from a Marine standpoint. Marine C-130's (and many variants within the Type/Model/Series) all have AAR and Formation AAR as one their primary, if not singularly primary, missions. I haven't checked the size dimensions, but I'd be willing to bet that C-130's are smaller than either of these two prototype (for lack of of a better term) aircraft, and yet I'd be willing to bet that the C-130 has pumped more gas while airborne than all the other platforms combined. The reason is it's expeditionary. It's forward-deployable, at expeditionary airfields. What aircraft do you think is being used to resupply the FARPs? JATO's enable it to take off of a carrier deck for crying out loud (yes, it's been done, but it only a handful of times as proof of concept. Catching a wire is a totally different matter). Can either of these two proposed aircraft fly slow enough to fill up any of the rotary-wing aircraft in the inventory?

And yes you need more of them to do the same work, but that higher number means that you have flexibility, adaptability and therefore a superior force.

This whole program smells of typical Air Force school-boy tech lust. They get rid of the A-10; Why? Not because it's probably the best ground support aircraft ever designed. Not because during Gulf War I it instilled absolute terror in the enemy (Google it sometime, you'll be amazed. Start with "Highway of Death") and killed them in wholesale fashion, not because it was efficient and effective on a level rarely seen anywhere, not because it was incredibly cheap to operate, could withstand unheard of amounts of battle damage yet remain airworthy, not because it practically encased the pilot in a sheet steel box...

No, they got rid of it because no one of any importance in the Air Force thought it glamorous enough to fly. This is the reason that SecDef Gates publicly castigated the (Ch)Air Force recently, and then forced the Chief of Staff and his own Air Force Secretary to step down. What's more, he recently nominated...wait for it...YOU GUESSED IT, A CARGO/XPORT PILOT as the next Chief of Staff.

We don't "need" either of these aircraft. Both of them will be significantly more expensive to operate than C-130s, and will not have nearly range of applicability/mission sets.

By weskurtz0081 on 6/19/2008 5:00:50 PM , Rating: 2
The Marines might not have a use for a tanker such as this, but it doesn't mean the Airforce doesn't. So, saying we don't "need" either of them is false. The C-130 just doesn't carry enough payload to meet the demands of the Airforce, nor does it have the cargo capacity.

RE: That's not quite how it works...
By Klober on 6/20/2008 9:23:09 AM , Rating: 2
I whole-heartedly agree with the summation of the A-10 being decommissioned. It was one of the best planes we've ever created for its purpose - highly effective and extremely survivable (both for pilot and the plane itself). I just wanted to make one (in my eyes) very important correction. Where you state:
practically encased the pilot in a sheet steel box

Actually, this was one of the things the "Warthog" (officially designated the Thunderbolt II) was known for - it was titanium, not steel. By many it was termed the "titanium bathtub". 900 pounds of titanium plate surrounding the cockpit, between 1/2 - 1 1/2" thick, with the interior (side facing the pilot) lined with a kevlar shield. :)

RE: That's not quite how it works...
By TakeoE on 6/20/2008 12:48:14 PM , Rating: 2
Uhh let me help YOU out.

The KC-130J has a `45,000 lb fuel offload capability, the USAF's smallest tanker KC-135, has a fuel offload capability about 3 times greater. One ANG squadron recently set a record of 804,000 lbs offloaded in a DAY. They refuel almost every airborne platform capable of being air-refueled by another aircraft EXCEPT Helicopters (Which is why the HC, MC and KC-130 tankers exist).

The KC-130 is there for tactical refueling, and simply cannot be used for strategic tanking, while jet platforms such as the KC-135, KC-10 and the forthcoming KC-45 can do both. The C-130 simply does not have anywhere near the range or fuel offload capability required, that's why we fly different platforms. You can't use a pair of needle-nose pliers when what you need is a pipe wrench.

"I'd be willing to bet that the C-130 has pumped more gas while airborne than all the other platforms combined."

Not even close buddy.

Get off it dumbass, do your homework before you "bet", you'll keep a lot more of your money that way.

RE: That's not quite how it works...
By Manch on 6/19/2008 8:36:38 PM , Rating: 2
The only places USAF tankers park/land/deploy to are fully capable airbases or airports. These are big places.

Yeah, that's not true. There are tankers based at locations that prevent them from taking off at maximum load and therefore not fully capable as you put it. 100 ARW, RAF Mildenhall has KC-135's, standard NATO runway.

Smaller tanker as an argument is a valid point. There are many airfields that simply cannot handle large or extremely heavy aircraft. The NATO standard 8,000-foot runway
is not adequate for fully loaded KC-135s, so how do you think an even larger tanker would do? While both of the new tanker designs from Boeing and EADS have this capability, there are still several locations that even these new tankers simply cannot access. Both are designed off of civilian airframes and cannot land on under developed runways like a military purpose built aircraft ~ c-17, c-5 or a c-130. bigger isn't always better.

Instead of throwing out anymore WAGs as facts in a thinly disguised insult do some homework.

RE: That's not quite how it works...
By Manch on 6/19/2008 8:51:38 PM , Rating: 2
While both of the new tanker designs from Boeing and EADS have this capability, there are still several locations that even these new tankers simply cannot access.

Should have read:

While the new tanker design from Boeing has this capability, there are still several locations that even both of these new tankers simply cannot access.

While the NG/EADS AC significantly better than the 135's I simply do not know if they can take off in under 8k ft.

By Amiga500 on 6/20/2008 4:46:04 AM , Rating: 2
The spec called for 7,000ft.

Both aircraft meet it.

By ikkeman2 on 6/20/2008 2:53:16 AM , Rating: 2
a quick wikisearch: (only commercial base plane info was complete, field length range due to models):

707: MTOW take-off run : 8.3 - 10.8 kft
767: MTOW take-off run : 5.6 - 9.5 kft
330: MTOW take-off run : 7.3 - 8.2 kft

So either competitor can take-off from any base the 707 can get out off.

Homework is FUN!!

RE: That's not quite how it works...
By TakeoE on 6/20/2008 1:17:28 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, most of the issues related to runway support has to do with the pressure distribution (weight / # and size of contact patches with the runway), it's not a simple matter of measuring the weight. It's quite possible the A330 MRTT (the ground pressure distribution figures aren't anywhere where I can find them yet) would be able to operate from fields that a KC-767 can.

RE: That's not quite how it works...
By Manch on 6/21/2008 11:49:50 AM , Rating: 2
Weight distribution was irrelevant to my reply.

The point I was making in my reply is the USAF does base tankers at locations that limit them from taking off at max capacity. A standard NATO runway (8k ft) is not long enough for a fully loaded KC-135 to take off from.

By cjc1103 on 6/20/2008 10:38:25 AM , Rating: 2
I flew tankers in the Air Force, and while they do generally land at large Air Force bases, they can land at smaller austere airfields if need be. The criteria for choosing a base is not that a C-5 can land there also, it is that support is better for the aircrews, fuel, maintenance etc, and they have the long runways necessary for large airplanes. Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard tankers usually are based at commercial airports because of convenience. It's nothing to do with the small vs large argument. Also the Airbus tanker even though it is larger then the Boeing tanker, could still park in the footprint of the existing 707-based KC-135 tanker, that was a requirement in the contract. Boeing's 777 would not have met this requirement, so it was not offered. The big argument for operational cost is the Airbus will deliver more fuel and/or cargo, but if you don't need any more capacity than the 767 would deliver, then the 767 is more efficient. So it's matter of determining what the actual fuel offload and cargo reqirements are going to be in the future. Also C-17 cargo planes are better for straight cargo, maybe they should buy more of those, but with the current political situation, no more are being bought, and Boeing is shutting down the C-17 production line.

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