Incredibly, Reuters reported yesterday that the Air Force changed its criteria at the last minute in the KC-X program that lowered the score of the Northrop Grumman KC-30 proposal. The Mobile Press-Register reports that Boeing’s KC-767 score was also lowered but that the effect was to reduce the cargo-troop carrying capability important of the tankers, which was a major KC-30’s selling point.
This is an astounding development. The USAF has made every effort to provide the appearance of fairness in what is perhaps the most controversial procurement program in decades. By making this last-minute change that undercuts a major attribute of the KC-30 only taints the process and is sure to be a basis of a Northrop protest if it loses. This is also likely to attract the attention of Sen. John McCain, who campaigns on his oversight of the previous scandal of the KC-767 award in 2002.
Furthermore, recall that Northrop nearly withdrew from the competition because the Air Force initially wasn’t going to place a lot of importance to the cargo-troop capability of the evaluation process. For the Air Force to change the criteria at this late date invites a protest–even Boeing might cite this if it loses, on procedural grounds.
This is a dumb, dumb move on the part of the Air Force, no matter how they explain it.