KC-X? What KC-X?
One of the stories we expected to be covering this year was the
next round of bidding for the US Air Force's next-generation aerial
refueling tanker, dubbed the KC-X.
If you recall last year's drama, Northrop Grumman won the
contract to build new tankers based on the Airbus A330 airliner.
Excited economic development officials in Alabama were beaming at
the thought of all the jobs promised by Airbus parent EADS, which
also pledged to produce other A330 variants there if the military
tanker was approved.
But Boeing challenged the process as having been biased toward
Northrop's bid, the Government Accountability Office of Congress
agreed, and the Air Force finally agreed the project should be
Now, the Orlando Sentinel reports industry observers are
predicting that given other priorities for the incoming Obama
administration, any new KC-X bidding process may be put off till
2010 at the soonest, and that the Air Force might decide not to
build the plane at all.
John Pike, president of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense-research
firm, commented, "Frankly, I hope the tanker deal is one thing that
does not survive the transition. Basically, there's really nothing
wrong with the existing KC-135 tankers, and any case for replacing
them is completely made up."
Opponents to that line of thinking counter the KC-135s are
approaching 60 years of age... and while they benefit from
excellent maintenance and regular upgrades, that's simply too old
for aircraft that perform such a vital role.
Regarding the recent trend toward official protests of every new
Air Force contract, regardless of who wins, Lexington Institute
defense analyst Loren Thompson offers the one assessment on which
"I don't know if we'll ever build the next-generation tanker,"
he quipped. "But we're sure building some good law firms in the