About face on the tanker?

In an interesting piece that looks like an about face, Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute now sounds like Boeing when it comes to the USAF tanker award. Thompson just published this piece on his website challenging the Air Force to answer a bunch of questions that are right out of Boeing’s playbook. Setting aside for the moment that the questions may well be answered in the GAO protest investigation, why Thompson is asking these now is ripe for speculation.

Immediately after the award, Thompson–the beneficiary, apparently, of USAF leaks on the award, didn’t raise these questions and praised the Air Force for an open and transparent process. He’s since been the target of more than a little criticism about receiving Air Force leaks. In fact, on March 18, US Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS), a hyper Boeing supporter (and former Boeing employee), wrote Michael Wynne, secretary of the Air Force, demanding to know how Thompson knew the Air Force was going to award the contract to Northrop (albeit only a half hour or so before the announcement–Editor) and knew the rationale behind the decision before Members of Congress did. (The latter is probably a bigger sin than the award to Northrop, in the view of some Members of Congress. Heaven help those who step on Congressional protocol.)

In the letter, Tiahrt requested that Wynne provide:

  • All documentation briefed or provided to Thompson regarding the KC-X decision;
  • A list of government officials who discussed the tanker decision with Thompson on Feb. 29, the date the award was announced;
  • Northrop’s official bid proposal;
  • Boeing’s official bid proposal;
  • Any appropriate data to the competition and award.

More: We can’t help but speculate–and that’s all it is–that with this kind of heat on leaks to Thompson, perhaps his sources, and his answers, have dried up on this issue and what we’re seeing now is a bit of frustration emerging.

We’ll remind readers that although we did not support Boeing’s filing of a protest, once it was filed we agreed that it needed to be vigorously pursued and that all of Boeing’s questions needed to be answered. These include the same questions Thompson raises. Only by addressing the questions thoroughly can the integrity of the USAF process be affirmed or disallowed (for the lack of a better term). Also reminding readers, our position was and is that if the GAO affirms the USAF decision, Boeing and its supporters should respect this decision. If the GAO upholds Boeing’s protest and recommends a re-run of the competition, the USAF Northrop and its supporters should likewise respect this conclusion (the USAF is not legally bound by a GAO recommendation, it should be noted).

Of course, a compromise can always be worked out by doubling the procurement and splitting the contract. As we wrote last week on our Corporate site, we believe there are missions for which the KC-767 is better suited than the KC-30 and vice versa. Furthermore, replacing 500 old KC-135s at the current proposed rate of 12-18 a year is ridiculously low. The US is spending something like $1 billion a day in Iraq (which Iraqi oil production was supposed to pay for, it might be remembered, according to Vice President Cheney); doubling the tanker production equals a month-and-a-half of expense of the Iraq war–spread out over many years it would take to produce the tankers. It’s a good investment.

New, Wednesday, 700 AM PDT: James Wallace at The Seattle Post-Intelligencer interviewed Thompson–here’s his report.

Speaking of aerial tankers, Airliners.net has a nice photo here.

2 Comments on “About face on the tanker?

  1. It could also be that he feels used and burned by his sources — publicly embarrassed. And too, maybe now that he has had access to the full story, it is hard not to have questions for all the reasons he listed and more. I’d bet it’s a function of both.

  2. Yep . .. weighs more, carries more further.Yep, takes more ramp space per aircraft but less aircraft are required. The Boeing proposal is a non-standard 767. If the USAF wanted to buy airline-surplus 767 they wouldn’t be compatible.

    If the Boeing offered the wrong airplane — PITY!

    JIM

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