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The Air Force tanker drama continues...

The ongoing saga between Northrop Grumman/EADS, Boeing, the Air Force, Congress, and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) continues to languish on in the face of an aging tanker fleet. Northrop Grumman/EADS formally won the contract earlier this year -- the $35B contract would have given the Air Force 179 Airbus A330-based KC-45 aircraft to replace 531 KC-135 tankers.

Boeing filed an official protest of the deal with the GAO in early March and received redemption in mid-June when the GAO agreed that errors were made during the selection process. "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," said the GAO at the time.

It now appears that Boeing isn't quite satisfied with just having the competition reopened -- according to the Wall Street Journal, it now wants more time to design a suitable aircraft to meet the Air Force's needs or it is threatening to walk away from the competition altogether. Boeing now wants an additional six months to submit a proper bid that the Air Force would be willing to accept.

"I think the option we would have if we were not given the six months, there is a really high likelihood that we would no-bid the program," said Boeing defense unit head Jim Albaugh.

The Defense Department is already considering giving both Northrop Grumman/EADS and Boeing two additional months to submit new bids for the competition according to close sources, but Boeing's Albaugh said that is not enough. "This is an airplane that's going to be in the inventory 40 years. What we're asking for is an additional four months to have a meaningful competition."

For Boeing, the request for more time and the threat of a "no-bid" is somewhat of a payback to Northrop Grumman/EADS which performed a similar feat back in 2007. The maneuvering by Northrop Grumman/EADS forced the Air Force to make some changes to the requirements for the competition that put Boeing's entry at a disadvantage.

Boeing's current proposal is based around a 767-200 airframe -- it is simply too small and doesn't meet the fuel capacity requirements of the Air Force. Albaugh acknowledges that without the extra time to bid a larger version of the 767-200, it will lose the contract.

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6 months for what?
By The Boston Dangler on 8/22/2008 11:58:04 AM , Rating: 1
all they're going to do is splice in a couple 20-30 foot fuselage extensions and add a couple tanks. how hard can it be? and by that i mean, boeing has been doing exactly that for decades, and modern planes are designed with this eventuality in mind.

RE: 6 months for what?
By Doormat on 8/22/2008 2:02:57 PM , Rating: 2
One of the possibilities is that they use the 767-400ER as the basis for the tanker, rather than the shorter 767-200ERF platform.

The problem of course is range, MTOW, and tailstrike problems.

RE: 6 months for what?
By GGT on 8/22/2008 2:20:28 PM , Rating: 3
The 767-400ER would be a frightfully bad tanker. I'd guess the 767-300 is more likely, with upgraded engines. Of course the 777 rumors are flying, but I can't help but wonder that most of the people involved on both sides realize that a 777 is really not practical. Problem is, its only a bit bigger than a A330.

The real problem here is that the Air Force (a/f) has thrown their tanker plan out the window. The KCX, KCY, and KCZ were to be three tanker programs with increasing aircraft size with the KCX being the biggest. No requirements had been set for the KCY or KCZ, but it was understood that the KCY would replace the KC-10 and the KCZ may be some other sort of mix with the KCX being a medium sized tanker in the size class of the KC-135. When the a/f chose the A330, it was like they were awarding what had previously been thought to have been the KCY aircraft. Now, the draft RFP has bee written almost to the letter for the A330 since Boeing won the protest. The a/f is sending a clear message, they want an A330, regardless of requirements.

RE: 6 months for what?
By masher2 on 8/22/2008 2:31:17 PM , Rating: 2
I believe Boeing wants to rework the proposal based on their 777-based tanker, actually.

RE: 6 months for what?
By GGT on 8/22/2008 2:49:32 PM , Rating: 2
They might, but it will be far more expensive than the A330 offering. Hard to imagine a victory there. EADS is discounting their bird a lot and Boeing won't be able to match that. There is no doubt that the 777 would crush the A330 for tanker range and offload performance, but in other areas it would suffer. Besides, it does not appear that the Air Force is making this decision based on product performance. If it were, they would not have changed the grading rules in the first place.

RE: 6 months for what?
By GGT on 8/22/2008 2:12:58 PM , Rating: 2
Its far more difficult that it may appear. The fuel systems and hydraulic changes and modifications are very complex and demanding. A tanker's systems are no walk in the park. It has to be able to move fuel around and at specific rates at specific times. Transforming a commercial product for such work is very challenging.

RE: 6 months for what?
By The Boston Dangler on 8/22/2008 5:31:27 PM , Rating: 2
you're correct, but boeing has already considered these factors (and much more) when they entered a competition to build and sell a fleet of tankers.

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