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Sun, Nov 09, 2003

USAF Tanker Deal Moving Right Along

Done Deal? House Approves DOD Spending Bill With Tanker Compromise

The House of Representatives Friday approved its final defense spending bill, including a multi-billion dollar compromise on the purchase of 100 Boeing tankers. As ANN has reported (at length...), the tanker deal has been the center of controversy between lawmakers and the Air Force, which says it desperately needs to replace its aging fleet of KC-135 tankers.  Many of those aircraft are as old or even older than the crews who fly them.

It's a battle that's been fought between the Pentagon and Capitol Hill for two years now.  The Air Force claimed the existing tanker fleet is so old that it's becoming dangerous.  Boeing said the fastest way to replace the fleet was to lease specially modified 767s. But that would be a lot more expensive than buying the aircraft outright, which is the traditional way for the Pentagon to do things.

The compromise goes like this...

The USAF will lease the first 20 tankers starting next year.  The Air Force would buy the rest between 2006 and 2014. 

During the debate, things got ugly. Critics of the lease option accused the Air Force of exaggerating the corrosion problem to get the tankers faster than needed. They accused the Pentagon of trying to buy the aviation industry out of its terrible slump that started after the 9/11 attacks. So the Pentagon gave a little, agreeing to the 20-80 plan as put forth by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (R-VA). Warner says the compromise saves American taxpayers about $4 billion.

The compromise is part of a $401 billion Defense Authorization Bill. It now goes on to the Senate where it's not expected to face any opposition. 



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