Air Tanker Wars – Boeing Pulls a Rabbit out of the Hat

Well, despite the naysayers and against the odds, the General Accounting Office has just determined there were “significant errors” in the process used to pick the best replacement for the Air Force’s aging KC-135 air tanker fleet.

Or course, the boys and girls in blue still want the Airbus 330-based Northrop Grumman KC-30 / KC-45 instead of the Boeing 767-based KC-767. But Boeing has its supporters, like the Center for Security Policyvarious Senators, and others, so things will get delayed some more. 

Feel free to take a long drink of Kool-Aid from Family Security Matters, but don’t expect them mention stuff like this or this. Heavens no.


Let’s all agree any KC-X proposal will be a big improvement over the existing KC-135 Stratotanker, the newest of which is 43 years old.

If Boeing had a newer design that was closer to the size of the A330, then things might be different. One of their employees makes some points about this here. Why not just use the newer 777? It’s too big? Or maybe it’s too popular? It sure would be nice for Boeing if they could pull off rigging up a 767 Frankenplane to sell to the U.S. military and then keep the 777 for the civilian market, wouldn’t it?

Boeing folks seem to think they know more about what the Air Force wants than the actual Air Force itself. Oh well.

The longer this replacement program gets put off the worse things get, if anyone over at Boeing cares.

Based on laughable press releases like this, they might not care.  

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3 Responses to “Air Tanker Wars – Boeing Pulls a Rabbit out of the Hat”

  1. George Hanshaw says:

    Or course, the boys and girls in blue still want the Airbus 330-based Northrop Grumman KC-30 / KC-45 instead of the Boeing 767-based KC-767.

    As a former Air Force aquisition officer, I believe you are showing your ignorance here. The Air Force has a needs determination process for identifying what they put in to a Request For Proposal (RFP) and that’s a very necessary thing when you are having people who are not themselves paying the bills buying multi-billion dollar items. This practice comes from expensive lessons learned from buying such things as the C-5A with a “requirement” that it be able to land in a dirt field. It actually did once…during its acceptance trials. It landed in an onion field not too far from Travis Air Force Base. Of course, when it took off it sucked vast quantities of dirt and last years onions into its engines. It made it back to Travis (three of its engines were write-offs, one was able to be overhauled) and demonstrated its ability to meet this “requirement” that someone thought was a good idea, but it was never used that way in practice….for painfully obvious reasons. It’s overly complicated landing gear, designed to keep it from sinking through the ground on dirt runways, has been the bane of its existence since that day though. Even the Flight Engineers that fly them joke about the amount of time the aircraft spends up on jacks, getting the gear fixed and/or serviced. That single requirement has added hundreds of millions to the program cost, and the US public got NOTHING for that money.

    Because of such past indiscretions, a formal process was developed to identify requirements (that is, actual requirements, not expensive nice-to-haves) to put in the RFP. That was done for this program, a replacement for the KC-135 MEDIUM tanker. The Air Force already has a HEAVY tanker, the KC-10A which can carry more fuel, cargo, and troops than the KX-135, but cannot be used on many airfields because it is TOO heavy, had too long a fuselage, and has too big a wingspan. Interestingly, the current KC-10A is smaller than the Airbus A330, although carrying more fuel.

    If you read the GAO report it is apparent that the PROCUREMENT guys, not the warfighters, changed the selection criteris from that specified in their own RFP in the middle of the source selection, in an effort to keep things competitive since the Airbus entry would not have been remotely competitive under the original RFP. Now there is a process by which that CAN be done, but they didn’t follow that process. What’s worse, they apparently only communicated those changes to one of the two contractors, a major no-no under procurement LAW.

    If the boys and girls in blue (and I used to be one for over 20 years) can justify changing the RFP to that of a HEAVY tanker, they may certainly do so. But if that’s the case, the law requires that both sides be given an opportunity to compete fairly for the new RFP. But bigger is not necessarily better, particularly if it limits the basing options of the tanker that is procured. Unless something has radically changed, an A330 tanker (or a Boeing 777 tanker derivative) still wouldn’t meet the need for a MEDIUM tanker, and let me tell you, if that’s all that’s bought you risk the very real possibility of the WARFIGHTERS saying that the KC-135s have to be kept….at least until a replacement MEDIUM tanker (by then perhaps a 787 or 350 XWB aircraft derivative) were available.

    You would do well to be a little bit more skeptical of the USAF procurement people here, especially since the GAO which tends to defer to the military procurement side gave them a pretty good reaming in their 69 page report.

    If the boys in blue need ANOTHER heavy tanker, they ought to be able to justify it, don’t you think?

  2. sfcitizen says:

    I appreciate your comments.

    What the Boeing people are saying is that the 767-based design is the obvious choice and that Air Force’s decision proves the AF is crazy.

    There are pluses and minuses to each proposal.

    Boeing will never put up the 777 as a proposal as airlines actually want to buy the 777 currently. What Beoing and its workers and its Senators want to do is keep the 767 line running and have Uncle Sucker pick up the tab.

    Australia and the UK and govts. in the mideast are choosing the Airbus design.

    So, it’s not crazy to think the EADS proposal would work out better over the life of the contract. IMO.

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