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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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RE: This is getting ridiculous...
By Gideonic on 8/22/2008 12:56:25 PM , Rating: 2
It isn't 100% American. There was a slide somewhere showing the parts of both of the last planes competing. Both of the planes had A LOT of stuff done in all sorts of different countries. Northrop was some 40%ish American built (engines for instance) while Boeing was around 70%. ( I hope i can find it again)

The logic: "Let's buy Boeing, then we won't have to outsource anything" doesn't really hold water imo.

Considering how much problems Boeing has caused with this contract and the quite dire need for new tankers, I really think Boeing deserves to lose it for a change. They are AFs primary contractor, therefore have a lot of other stuff to hold them on the water. Maybe the loss would finally cause them to get their asses together build a outright better plane next round.


RE: This is getting ridiculous...
By Solandri on 8/22/2008 3:06:25 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, all of aerospace is moving to a manufacturing model where suppliers from all over the world are used. It makes sense - if some company is really good at making avionics, I would like to see those avionics on both Boeing and Airbus planes. That way everyone gets to benefit from that company's superior technology, not just half the planes out there. Contrast this to game consoles where console manufacturers sign popular game titles to exclusive deals, so you're forced to buy multiple consoles if you want all the best games. It's stupid and a waste of money. So I don't think whether it's American or foreign should really play a role.

I disagree that Boeing deserves to lose the contract though. The Air Force should get the best plane it can get for its money, whether it's a Boeing plane or an Airbus plane. Boeing's punishment for the earlier 767 tanker bribery scandal should be fines and possibly jail time for some of its employees. But the punishment should not be something that negatively affects the Air Force's ability to get the best plane it can.


RE: This is getting ridiculous...
By mindless1 on 8/22/2008 5:04:27 PM , Rating: 2
This is puzzling. Boeing should lose for building closer to what the Air Force spec'd? Methink you have that backwards. What happened was the Air Force changed their minds about what they wanted and the competitors should not be penalized for that. Both companies still have the same time and option to make changes if there is an extension granted, so they can both design towards the new target.


RE: This is getting ridiculous...
By FITCamaro on 8/22/2008 5:16:02 PM , Rating: 2
The Air Force didn't change their minds. EADs said, "Change the contract or we walk away". It was done and it gave EADs an advantage.


RE: This is getting ridiculous...
By GGT on 8/22/2008 5:36:15 PM , Rating: 2
And now that "advantage" is being magnified by yet further changes that have appeared in the new draft RFP that the Air Force has now released. Basically, they are now putting on paper the secret rules they used before to hand the contract to EADS. Why should Boeing jump to bid on a job they are sure to lose with time constraints and requirements deliberately algined against them?


RE: This is getting ridiculous...
By mindless1 on 8/22/2008 10:32:10 PM , Rating: 2
Changing the contract WAS essentially changing their minds. I feel bad for Boeing, but that doesn't mean they should get the contract if they can't come up with a better design given the time needed. IMO it's worth the wait to see, 40 years is a long time.


RE: This is getting ridiculous...
By rudolphna on 8/22/2008 10:24:10 PM , Rating: 2
yes, and EADS supplies planes to nearly every country that has an AF. :) Boeing builds good planes. They build reliable planes. They have the vast majority of the Assembly line in the US, Airbus doesnt. Boeing also owns McDonnell Douglas, as well. But in the long run, its far better, IMHO to keep Boeing supplying airplanes for the Airforce, as long as there arent safety and real problems. The A330 is a relatively new airframe. Better, maybe. But the 767 is a PROVEN airframe. Proven to be reliable and safe.
Another problem i have with EADS/Airbus is how they try to force American Airframe makers to use European engines, so they will pass the JAA's "safety" testing. (i.e. JAA threatens boeing for its 787 to not pass its regulations if it does not use Rolls Royce engines over GE or P&W engines. Its a political thing, that I despise. It should be up to the customer (the airline, or the AF) to decide what engines are installed on the plane, not the freakin Joint Aviation Authority.


RE: This is getting ridiculous...
By Calin on 8/24/2008 3:30:45 AM , Rating: 2
Boeing tries to sell the Air Force planes based on airframes that will go out of production in several years, and out of support in something like 20 years. This is a big deal for planes intended to work 40 years, and in sometime difficult conditions (many flights close to max weight, difficult flight conditions).
If the Boeing tanker loses the competition, it plans to end 767 production - and it will end production as soon as the Air Force tankers are built. This means that, if the Air Force suddenly needs 50 more tankers 3 years in the contract, Boeing will need to rebuild its production line, or the Air Force will need to make a new proposal, accept new bids for new and different airframes.


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