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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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By Amiga500 on 6/19/2008 2:06:18 PM , Rating: 0
Thats not in issue. The Airbus plane is significantly larger (~25%) and significantly more weighty (~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).

See my link above (AF Journal of Logistics) regarding capability and the need to have it

Looking at wikipedia, since neither Boeing nor Airbus are forthcomming directly of the specs of the tankers

MTOW= 400,000 lbs
Fuel= 202,000 lbs
Boom offload = 6,800 lbs/min
Wing offload = 2,680 lbs/min
Centre hose = 4,020 lbs/min
PAX = 190
Cargo = 19x 463L pallets
Patients = 97

MTOW = 513,000 lbs
Fuel = 250,000 lbs
Boom offload = 8,000 lbs/min
Wing offload = 2,800 lbs/min
Centre hose = 4,000 lbs/min
PAX = 226
Cargo = 32x 463L pallets
Patients = 126

So comparatively:
MTOW: 28% more to KC-45 (MTOW is not empty weight, and fuel capacity is volume limited -)
Fuel: 25% more to KC-45
Boom offload: 18% more to KC-45
Wing offload: 4% more to KC-45
Centre hose: 0.5% more to B767
PAX: 19% more to KC-45
Cargo: 68% more to KC-45
Patients: 30% more to KC-45

From other sources:

B767-200ER: empty weight: 180,000 lbs
A330-200: empty weight: 263,000 lbs
Or the KC-45 is 46% heavier (approx) - However that is immaterial as the A330 has much better lift dependent drag performance.

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.


I read Boeing's press release on this and near wet myself laughing - it is pitiful that they are so desperate to find an area where the KC-767 outperforms the KC-45 they single out the ability of the KC-767 to last a few seconds longer in a dogfight with hostile fighters.

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