Aging KC-135s To Soldier On Indefinitely
ANN REALTIME REPORTING 09.10.08 1030 EDT: It
may be the final postscript in the evergreen KC-X tanker
competition... but it's not a satisfying ending. On Wednesday,
the Department of Defense notified the Congress and the two
competing contractors, Boeing and Northrop Grumman, that it is
terminating the current competition for a US Air Force airborne
Secretary Gates, in consultation with senior Defense and Air
Force officials, has determined the solicitation and award cannot
be accomplished by January. Rather than hand the next
Administration an incomplete and possibly contested process,
Secretary Gates decided that the best course of action is to
provide the next Administration with full flexibility regarding the
requirements, evaluation criteria and the appropriate allocation of
defense budget to this mission.
"Over the past seven years the process has become enormously
complex and emotional -- in no small part because of mistakes and
missteps along the way by the Department of Defense," said Gates in
testimony before the House Armed Services Committee. "It is my
judgment that in the time remaining to us, we can no longer
complete a competition that would be viewed as fair and objective
in this highly charged environment.
"The resulting "cooling off" period will allow the next
Administration to review objectively the military requirements and
craft a new acquisition strategy for the KC-X," Gates added.
As ANN reported, the Pentagon assumed
authority over the KC-X selection process in July, after the
Government Accountability Office upheld a protest lodged by Boeing
against the original USAF decision on February 29 to award the
initial $40 billion contract to a team comprised of Northrop
Grumman and EADS. DoD was expected to release new guidelines on the
competition last month... but had repeatedly delayed the release of
those final stipulations.
The Pentagon did release a 98-page briefing on proposed
amendments and clarifications to the original RFP in early
and immediately caught flak from Boeing, which
asserted the new competition would place greater emphasis on aerial
refueling duties, and capabilities above and beyond the Air Force's
original plan. Industry analysts said that would favor the
Northrop/EADS KC-30, which offers much greater fuel capacity than
the smaller Boeing KC-767.
In turn, Boeing later threatened to pull out of the competition
completely, unless the Pentagon granted the company a six-month
reprieve to develop a more competitive plane. On Wednesday, Boeing
welcomed the Pentagon's decision to stall the process, saying the
delay would allow "the appropriate time for this important and
complex procurement to be conducted in a thorough and open
competition," reports The Associated Press.
In its own statement, Northrop said the Pentagon's decision only
serves to further put off the needed replacement of the Air Force's
aging fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers. "With this delay, it is
conceivable that our warfighters will be forced to fly tankers as
old as 80 years of age," Northrop spokesman Randy Belote said.
The Pentagon asserts that in making its decision, the DoD
determined the current, aging KC-135 fleet can be adequately
maintained to satisfy Air Force missions for the near future. Gates
said sufficient funds will be recommended in the FY09 and follow-on
budgets to maintain the KC-135 at high-mission capable rates.
In addition, the Department will recommend to the Congress the
disposition of the pending FY09 funding for the tanker program and
plans to continue funding the KC-X program in the FY10 to FY15
budget presently under review.