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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 2:12:33 PM , Rating: 2
I am inclined to believe that Boeing is more capable in delivering a reliable tanker on time with the RFP schedule than Airbus (EADS).

Erm...

The KC-45 is basically the A330 MRTT airframe with a new boom. It is flying right now. Northrop have built and tested their new boom for use in the KC-45.

The KC-767 uses the 767-300 wings, the 767-400 nose/cockpit/flaps and avionics, and the 767-200 fuselage. It exists only on CATIA drawings. Boeing have not built or tested their new boom for the KC-767.

You still wanna talk about which has most technical risk?


RE: That's not quite how it works...
By Keeir on 6/19/2008 4:08:55 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
The KC-767 uses the 767-300 wings, the 767-400 nose/cockpit/flaps and avionics, and the 767-200 fuselage.


I really don't understand this point. The -200/-300/-300F/-400ER versions of the 767 are all built on the -same- production line using the -same- tooling. In fact, the -200/-300/-300F/-400ER use many of the -same- parts

Both Boeing AND Airbus has a long history getting thier computer models to accuractely predict airplane performance.

quote:
Boeing have not built or tested their new boom for the KC-767.


I am guessing, because the prototype... it works fairly well for the KC-135 in service. You know, a Boeing Made and Installed Boom working for 50+ years. Just a thought.

In truth, the risk is very great for both sides. Both sides are stretched to the limit to provide profitability in commerical business. Both are struggling with a major project (A380 versus 787), both are trying to expand capacity anyay (777 & A320), both are designing new aircraft (A330-200F/A350, 747-8/787-9), and both would be using two factories to complete the job. Still, I think a plane made of parts that have a supply chain, a production chain, and known processes (but not ever assembled) is better than taking an assembled plane that is going to be made by untrained workers in a new factory using a new process.


By Amiga500 on 6/19/2008 6:23:27 PM , Rating: 2
I really don't understand this point. The -200/-300/-300F/-400ER versions of the 767 are all built on the -same- production line using the -same- tooling. In fact, the -200/-300/-300F/-400ER use many of the -same- parts

Which is why the fuselage for the -200 series is 20ft shorter than the -300 and 40ft shorter than the -400... or why the wingspan for the -200/-300 is nearly 15ft less than for the -400... or why the -400 weighs 30% more than the -200...

Different aircraft with different avionics and different wings. The fuselage barrels are probably consistent, but that is about the height of it.

It is not a simple job to throw different parts together and simply produce a good aircraft. The Boeing effort will have to undergo basic certification, whereas that is already done for the A330 MRTT.


Both Boeing AND Airbus has a long history getting thier computer models to accuractely predict airplane performance.


LOL

Which is why Boeing are desperately trying to cut weight on the 787? Or Airbus had nightmares with the composite wingbox of the A400M?

I am guessing, because the prototype... it works fairly well for the KC-135 in service. You know, a Boeing Made and Installed Boom working for 50+ years. Just a thought.

Totally different booms - 50 years is a long time.

Do General Electric say "hey, we built a jet engine for the F-86... no need to do a prototype" for the F-22?

Do they f__k.

No matter how anyone can try and dress it up, the Northrop Grumman proposal carries MUCH less technical risk than the Boeing one. That is a simple fact.

In truth, the risk is very great for both sides. Both sides are stretched to the limit to provide profitability in commerical business.

I wouldn't be surprised if EADS are actually paying out a bit to get the Mobile factory up and running (even allowing for the USAF contract). They need an assembly line in the dollar zone to protect themselves against further currency fluctuations.

Oh, and another thing. If it happens, the KC-767 will be the B767's last orders, and the line will close upon completion. Now, are the USAF prepared to run 2 tankers when the KC-Y tender comes up down the line?

In contrast, the A330F line will definitely be open when KC-Y is out for tender - and fleet commonality can be maintained.


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