A labor union of technical engineers issued an 11-page “white paper” today ripping the USAF tanker contract award to Northrop Grumman and the KC-30 over the Boeing KC-767. The two page press release summarizes the white paper findings.
The press release focuses entirely on EADS, parent of Airbus and maker of the A330-200 on which Northrop’s offering of the KC-30 is based. Northrop’s identified as a “minority” partner.
(During a conference several months ago, Northrop acknowledged that about 50% of the contract revenues flow to EADs/Airbus. Engines, in this case provided by GE (an American company), typically represent about 20% of the cost of a commercial airliner. This clearly makes Northrop a “minority partner.” But it’s important that although 50% of the revenues may flow to EADS/Airbus, payments to suppliers to EADS/Airbus also flow back to suppliers, with more than 200 based in the US. Northrop says that about 60% of the KC-30 by value is US-sourced.)
The White Paper is replete with errors and misrepresentations and cites “facts” without sourcing them.
- It claims the KC-30 isn’t as structurally as sound as the KC-767 without backing this claim up.
- It states (accurately) that currently only 1% of all cargo carried by the Air Mobility Command is carried by tankers but ignores statements and conclusions by the Air Force that a new way of carrying troops and cargo is required for the future, requiring a multi-role tanker-transport.
- It claims EADS and Northrop “have conceded” the KC-30 is “much more costly” to operate than the KC-767; they’ve done nothing of the kind. They have conceded the KC-30 burns 6% more fuel than the KC-767, a far cry from the 24% cited by a Boeing-paid consultancy.
- It claims Boeing has delivered 2,000 tankers in 75 years–but ignores the fact that the last Boeing-manufactured tanker, the KC-135, was delivered 42 years ago, and that the last tanker delivered by McDonnell Douglas, now a part of Boeing, was delivered 20 years ago.
- It correctly notes that the KC-30 is in testing but ignores the fact that the KC-767AT proposed by Boeing for the Air Force is only a “paper” airplane; and the the KC-767 tanker delivered to Japan in February and March was years late and still hasn’t entered service; or that none of the KC-767 tankers ordered by Italy have been delivered and are years late.
- It correctly notes that Boeing has designed an delivered five generations of aerial refueling booms but the sixth generation proposed to the Air Force is only a paper design. It correctly notes that the EADS boom is in testing.
- It fairly questions past performance issues with Northrop and EADS but ignores the past performance issues of Boeing, particularly with the Italian and Japanese tanker programs.
- It charges that 44,000 US jobs will be “exported.” This is the flimsiest claim of all. Boeing has never validated how it asserted the KC-767 will support 44,000 US jobs. Northrop initially claimed 25,000 US jobs will be supported, for a net difference of 19,000 jobs that would be subject to “export.” But Northrop later revised its figure that the KC-30 will support 48,000 jobs and “showed its math.” We’re still skeptical of this figure (how can a plane with less US content than claimed by Boeing for its KC-767 (at 85%) support more jobs?), but Northrop at least has been public about how it claims its number while Boeing refuses to do so.
- It visits the claim of “illegal” subsidies to Airbus. Until the World Trade Organization rules in this case, perhaps as soon as next month, these are still allegations–as are the claims by the European Union that Boeing also received “illegal” subsidies. This issue is a red herring all around.
The problems with the White Paper go on and on.