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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 Amiga500 on 6/19/2008 1:38:52 PM , Rating: 3
The Boeing 767 should be significantly less expensive platform than the Airbus 330. Why? Because its -smaller-. That part never made sense to me, and the GAO found numerous errors that inflated the cost of the Boeing 767 proposal. (Note, some of them, like using Boeing 707 Tanker maintaince data rather than almost 30 years of 767 service History make no sense)

The A330 can carry more. It can thus service more planes. Require less cycles to do the same job, and can provide a useful airlift capacity.

In contrast a greater number of 767s are required to service the same aircraft, and a bespoke airlift fleet is required.

With regards the parts. The 767 for the USAF is a new variant. One that will have very little in common with commercial fleets.

The commercial line is on the brink of shutting down. Higher fuel prices will result in the 767 being phased out, leaving the USAF as the sole (or main) operator. Guess what that means = higher parts cost.

The 707 maintenance prices were included for that reason.


The Biggest thing in my mind, the Boeing 767 is significantly more fuel efficient as a platform than the Airbus 330.


Because it is smaller.

Now, when talking about fuel load and load factor, then the A330 absolutely destroys the B767.


At a time when most air refueling missions (the primary purpose of a tanker) do not require 100% fuel offload from Boeing 707, it doesn't appear to me that the larger capacity of the Airbus 330 makes a significant difference.


Except when range and airlift capacity are considered. You say air refuelling is the primary purpose of a tanker now, and indeed it is - because the current breed do not have the capacity to provide meaningful airlifts. The B767 will continue with that, while the A330 will change it.

I'll also point you to this link (lifted from the Air Force Journal of Logistics No.1 2002:

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0IBO/is_1_2...

and I quote:

During the deployment phase of operations, fuel available for offload is the critical measure of effectiveness because CONUS-based fighting forces require large fuel onloads to fly nonstop to distant theaters of operation. Figure 2 shows AMC's current and forecast air-refueling capability as a function of fuel offload available.

The tanker fleet must be able to support the requirements for both fuel offload and aircraft availability. According to a June 2000 GAO report on military readiness, the KC-135 fleet falls below the required mission capability (MICAP) rates for ensuring execution of wartime plans. In fact, the GAO's findings state KC-135s maintained a 67-percent MICAP rate for execution of wartime plans as opposed to the 85-percent MICAP requirement.


Your spreading FUD... and a lot of it at that.


The 767 is almost as effective an airlifter, carrying almost as much cargo wieght using less fuel to a similar range as the A330.


Rubbish. Absolute utter rubbish.

Your pretty much saying the B767 is nearly as good as an A330 there... which of course explains why the A330 absolutely trounced the B767 in the commercial arena.


Oh, and Boeing already has the capacity to building the booms and hose systems to refuel all American planes.


But hasn't actually built the new boom as is required by the KC-767. NG has for the KC-45.

Airbus are supplying the A330 MRTT to other countries. For you to suggest they cannot supply the USAF for capacity reasons is disingenuous.


By DeathSniper on 6/19/2008 1:51:36 PM , Rating: 2
Thank god for someone who actually understands the purpose of a fuel tanker.

"Smaller and ligher..." I still laugh at the people who bring these points up - so THAT'S how they're going to be used to 'force multiply', more tankers! :p


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