Tanker contest gearing up

The Department of Defense’s JROC (a joint requirement group) met to consider what to do about the next round of the KC-X tanker competition, and US Sen. John McCain threw cold water on the idea promoted by US Rep. John Murtha about a split buy between Northrop Grumman and Boeing.

Boeing delivered its third KC-767J to Japan last week while EADS, partner of Northrop, promoted a milestone for its KC-30A Australian MRTT tanker.

Boeing has yet to deliver its first KC-767I to the Italians.

37 Comments on “Tanker contest gearing up

  1. But has delivered the third example to the Japanese.
    If I’m not mistaken, it was the Italian’s inability to produce the second, third and forth aircraft that had much to do with the delivery schedule changes.

  2. It’s sad to see this kind of bashing on this website.
    “This is how its in Europe”. You generalize and take wrong examples. In Europe, we buy much more american military aircrafts or aeronautics components than the US does with european products.
    Don’t bash Europeans when they try to establish competition instead of monopoly in GPS localisation or military air transport. By the way, there is no direct competitor to the A400M or the A330MRTT. And don’t bash frenchies when they want a multi-role tanker (the KC767 is much less capable in this domain) in common with the UK. We don’t bash canadians when they buy exclusively american weapons.
    For your information in Europe we build very good missiles, sometimes much better than the US.

  3. “This is how its in Europe”
    The airbus countries, quite properly in my opinion, favor home grown solutions for major weapons systems–even where there is an American alternative. The French refusal to allow the French navy to buy F-18s a while back because of the impact on the Ralfale program is a good example. The A400’s costs are approaching that of the C-17s and is far less capable. However, the French senate warned that to abandon the A400 would cede the United States a virtual monopoly in the military transport market. Translation: continue at any cost.

    I cannot fault the airbus countries for pursuing these protectionist policies. I only wish the U.S. Congress would mandate the same for the tanker program. The KC-767 met every requirement of the RFP.

    Galileo? So when europe does it it’s in the spirit of establishing “competition”, even though they would rather eat ground glass than buy a superior U.S. product off the shelf?

  4. Your protectionist bias makes you forget many things. Europeans bought a lot of american fighters and are involved in the F35 program (a big mistake by the way).
    The F18 was much too big and not able for example to carry the ASMPA nuclear missile.
    Sorry, France has the right to be independent from the USA in this domain.
    The C-17 is by far more expensive (to buy and to operate) than the A400M and is not as versatile.
    Galileo is much more accurate than the GPS and is politically independant from the US.
    And don’t try to translate with your biased theories what the french senate recently concluded about the A400M : it’s NOT “continue at any cost”. It’s “continue because it’s worth spending 8 billions for a new european product which can make at least the same job than a mix of C17 and C130 which would cost 12 billions euros”.

  5. The latest price on the A400M is 145 million euros; the latest export price on the C-17 is $220 million. The price difference is rapidly closing and when the A400M enters service it will likely exceed the cost of the vastly more capable American aircraft. The news of performance shortfalls, weight issues, and avionic problems is also disconcerting for the countries that ordered the A400M. Both Enders and Gallois have acknowledged that the thing is going to be very late and won’t perform as advertised.

    Europeans have bought many American weapon systems. The airbus countries, with the exception of the UK, have not recently. They buy their own kit. Yes, Europeans are involved in the F-35, but of the airbus countries, only the UK falls into this group. The Germans, French, and Spainish are not and never will be.

    The French navy wanted the F-18. The French government said ‘non’. The nuclear issue was a red herring; the French navy wanted it to plug the gap between the retirement of the F-8s and the Rafale. Teh French government was worried that the “interim” solution would impact the RafaleN and become the permanent solution. Serge Dassault had considerable influence in those days.

    Galileo is more accurate? That’s a joke, right? It hasn’t been built yet. The American GPS is in operation. Or are you implying that it will be more accurate? Just like the A400 will outperform the C-17?

    Just as the French, we have the right to be “independent” and buy our own products. Like the airbus countries, we have the right…no…obligation to protect our own infrastructure and buy our own products.

    Keep your airbus.

  6. Aurora,
    Regarding your first post, I wouldn’t jump to conclusions yet about how ‘Europe does it’ from the link you provided. If you had actually read the article it says that:
    Blundell said: “I get the sense that the French are getting ready to make a decision, at least on the procurement methodology if not necessarily the timescale.”
    For procurement methodology read RFP. There is no contract to be signed for any tankers any time soon. If Boeing is conducting similar meetings with the French DoD, to talk about what they are doing with their tanker, then great… or maybe not, like is the case with the Indian tanker competition.

    I remind you, UK held a very open competition for the tankers and Italy signed up for the 767s (getting them is a different story) of course, although that was before the A330 was offered. Moving further away from the aerospace, please read this article about the high speed train competition held in the UK.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7886766.stm
    An interesting bit is:
    …the train would be assembled at a factory in Britain, in a location to be confirmed…
    Hmmm… that sounds really familiar.

    In the case of KC-45, a competition had been called by the USAF and the bids submitted. I don’t remember anybody complaining about that from the beginning. Obviously thinking that NG/EADS would never win against the ‘home’ side.

    I told you before and I am telling you now, if you feel so strongly about ‘protecting your own infrastructure’, write to your Senator and demand a bill giving it to Boeing. Have you done that?

    Thank you, we will keep our Airbus.

  7. Our European friends, and I say this with all sincerity, continue to have one set of rules for themselves, ie the RAF Future Tanker Programme, and the French Air Force choice of Airbus, and quite another for the U.S. Air Force KC-X program and those of us, a majority of Americans I dare say, who believe the contract should and will be given to Boeing.

    They complain of “protectionism”, but ignore it in their own back yard. They say ‘we’ve bought American equipment’, but forget that many of those systems were only available until quite recently, by the Americans. And they conviently ignore the GAO report which clearly stated that the competition between both aircarft was not the slam dunk Airbus wanted us to believe. Quite to the contrary, competition between both designs “were very close” On that basis, the home team should, and will be favored.

  8. Sounds like our American friends, and I say this with all the sincerity, like nothing more than to have a good moan, again, about how good the 767 is and how EADS managed to lobby their way to a contract, undeservedly so…. french berets, freedom fries, A400M, Galileo… oops gone off topic, back to the topic, 767s are the best.

    Great, let USAF have them but don’t call a phony competition for the sake of having a ‘competition’ if the only thing of the agenda is ‘protect our own infrastructure’.

  9. Smart Americans buy American! The jobs saved could be their own!
    Some trade is good, this would not be one of those times! We need to keep this money in our own country! Perfume yes, military planes no!

  10. Danny and UK… Do you really want to mention the A400M in your arguments about the KC-X?

    If so, I’ll forward those sentiments to the Luftwaffe and RAF as they’re sending the cancellation notices to Airbus Military.

    And yes UK, I have written to my representatives expressing just the sentiments you suggested.
    And I even wrote to then White House complaining of their attempts to reward diplomatic efforts aboard with military contracts.
    As what will happen with the VH-71, the KC-45A has been canceled.
    You may not like what Aurora is saying, but he does express the opinions of the majority Americans who follow these controversies as it relates when to defense related issues and our sometimes contentious relations with our Europen Allies.
    It is what it is… And yes, Air Force One will not be an A380, thankfully. 🙂

  11. This bashing about Europe not buying American forgets or ignores a very significant point. Most systems sold outside the U.S. are stripped down versions so that top secret information does not leave the domain of the States. In fact, the UK almost bowed out of JSF due to this type of limitation.

    Fair enough but would the US, if they were ever to buy a major military system, agree to a limited version? Of course not. Whay expect others to do the same?

    Whether or not Galileo will be better than the GPS system remains to be seen. The only reason it is being built is that the U.S. controls the GPS system and has long said it they shall shut off access to it, if and/or when they need to.

    Would the U.S. agree to such a scenario? Again, of course not.

    If the U.S. wants to only buy American, well and good. But better ask the head office boys at Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumann, Boeing et al. They may not want to lose what they are selling to the rest of the world should the rest of the world chooses to reciprocrate.

  12. This constant chest beating about the US and French interests is really getting old when it comes to the tanker acquisition by DoD/AF. The requirements were stated and the responses were filed. The competition was open and no requirements where stated as to where the airframe would come from. The debating as to who bought what when is asinine in nature and just shows how narrow mined some supposedly educated people are. The tired old KC-135 was a break through aircraft of its time; however its time has come and gone. The AF seems to want a long range versatile airframe with multiple capability, may the best aircraft win. Politics and buy American should not be apart of the competition because there is no purely American built anything anymore and we all know it, so shut up about American built! And by the way I understand that some of the components and engines in the current tanker fleet are foreign made! Your American Built doesn’t hold water.

  13. Sal,
    No, I don’t like what Aurora is saying, for this reason. Aurora’s point was a link and an assertion that France is basically on the verge of buying the A330 tankers, the point you also repeated. I said that there nothing of the kind and quoted Blundell. The French are in the process of defining the requirements. Is Boeing in negotiation with them also? I don’t know (neither does the author of the article) but the jump to conclusions was very tempting and quick.

    A400M is an enigma which I doubt can be fully understood by anybody. I certainly will not understand it. The kind of mess it created will be mopped up for years to come. Now, the plane itself is different to C-17 and C-130 with different set of parameters. Please forward this the Luftwaffe and the RAF, you seem to have a lot of European friends after all.

    As far as your letters or emails to your representatives are concerned, I am happy that you have done that. At least it shows clarity. My point is that on that basis another competition should not go ahead as it will be a complete waste of time and money. Give it to a plane with a Boeing sticker and be done with it. But various US government agencies should not create an illusion that there some sort of competition going on.

    JayPee, you made some good points.

    A380 for AF1? I was hoping it wouldn’t happen. At least we have something in common.

  14. UKAir , Danny, et al,

    Why do you advocate two standards of behavior, one for the airbus countries and one for the U.S.? If we favor our industries, its “protectionism”. When you favor your industries, its “rational self interest”. A400, TP400, Galileo….

    We are under ZERO obligation to hold a competition. The legal framework exists to support sole sourcing this to Boeing.

    The politics of the tanker issue guarantee that this will be a win-lose deal. As I count heads in the Congress, I just can not see a majority favoring airbus. I have personally written to my own representatives stating my preferences and have received supportive feedback. There are undoubtedly some generals in the USAF that want the big airbus; fortunately, they don’t appropriate the funds. Like it or not, “politics” has the last word; always has, always will.

    The only way the USAF will get a tanker this decade or next, will be to go with Boeing. In fact, they could have had a tanker, funded and in the works if they had chosen wisely the last time. I hope the new USAF leadership realizes this? Perhaps more importantly, I fail to see how the selection of an airbus aircraft is going to square with this administration’s stated intentions to revitalize the U.S. industrial base.

    So, let’s be “protectionists” and act in what is clearly our rational self interest: buy the Boeing plane. We’ll just have to deal with the loss of the French, German, and Spanish defense business.

  15. Aurora

    It is obvious that you have no knowledge of the FAR or Federal Laws concerning acquisition of US defense hardware. I would enlighten you but I feel it would be a waste of time

  16. Jay it is equally obvious you have no knowledge of the following:

    http://www.flightglobal.com/blogs/the-dewline/2008/07/sen-hillary-clinton-airbus-tan.html
    “Title X, subtitle A, part 4, chapter 144, section 2440, which reads: ‘The secretary of defense shall prescribe regulations requiring consideration of the national technology industrial base in the development and implementation of acquisition plans for each major defense acquisition program’.”

    FAR & contracting regulations are subordinate to the US Code. I could enlighten you,but I feel it would be a waste of time.

  17. That is a true statement, however it does not apply to the acquisition of COTS hardware and that is what the airframes are until modified for military use by a US prime contractor, would you like to proceed. I have forty plus years in military acquisition programs.

  18. Now, now, children-let’s ratchet back the huffing and puffing.

    More to the point, not everyone reading this knows the nuances of FARs and sole-sourcing. For those who don’t let’s return to a discussion of the issues and avoid the personal slams.

  19. Jay,your contention that the airframes are exempt is merely your opinion and is subject to interpretation. Then Asst Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, John Young, did not take this position when confronted with the legal requirement during open hearings on the tanker issue. This is not so easily dismissed.

    Then there is the political reality of the situation: most Americans and their elected representatives would prefer to keep this capability resident in the U.S. Boeing stated they would be out of the tanker business should this procurement go to airbus.

    As for the French view, here’s an update on “do as we say, not as we do”.
    http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story_generic.jsp?channel=aerospacedaily&id=news/A400M030309.xml&headline=France%20Prepares%20A400M%20Gapfiller%20Plan

    Note that nowhere does the French minister advocating buying the better American product, the C-17. He does maintain that we should buy their airbus since it is better, while doing everything he can to “circle the wagons” on the A400M. What shall we make of this?

    End this charade. Buy Boeing.

  20. Oh Lord… where do I start? Aurora, I have a feeling that you actually fail to read some posts as well as the links you provide.
    In my last post I said ‘Give it to a plane with a Boeing sticker and be done with it.’ and ‘…write to your Senator and demand a bill giving it to Boeing’. Your reply starts with ‘UKAir , Danny, et al, Why do you advocate two standards of behavior…’.
    I don’t. I have already said what should be done to avoid any more mess.

    Then your first link… The Flight article doesn’t say what you want it to say, so you come up with a gem ‘…French are already in negotiations with Airbus to buy from the home team. No pretense of competition’.
    Nothing of a kind, as it happens.

    Then this ‘…most Americans and their elected representatives would prefer to keep this capability resident in the U.S’.
    I am sure they would, so I suggest you write a letter to the Boeing management team to bring 75% of the work they outsourced on the 787 back.

    ‘Boeing stated they would be out of the tanker business should this procurement go to airbus’.
    I am sure they would. Time start work on a better product then.

    And your last link…
    So your suggestion is, after 5 billion had been spent, cancel the A400M and order a 100% American product (C-17), while you oppose the 60% American product by value for the USAF (KC-45).
    Also ‘…draw on the C-17 fleet that a subset of NATO members are providing…’ is the option listed.

    ‘…better American product, the C-17 [against the A400M]’. Can you point me in the direction of a study confirming this?

    ‘He does maintain that we should buy their airbus since it is better, while doing everything he can to “circle the wagons” on the A400M. What shall we make of this?’
    Perhaps maybe, I know it is ground breaking but stick with me on this, that the A330 tanker is better? 5 win out of 5 may mean something after all. A colleague of mine who was in some way involved with the Australian competition said that the general thought was the decision was ‘a no brainer’. Still I am not an expert and not involved in the discussions, I’ll leave it to those who are. I think, though, the 767AT will not be offered for sale outside of the US.

    I repeat myself, to avoid any more political storms or Norm Dicks having a heart attack, the best decision will be to pass the bill and give this deal to Boeing without any competition rather than to call a phony one and choose Boeing because of its nationality. The recent call by Murtha is silly because USAF will end up paying for 2 developments and clearly will not save any money. This brings me nicely to the last 2 words of your post.

  21. When our government is spending our taxpayer dollars, they need to spend them in our country. It would be different if there were no planes here, but that isn’t the case!

    Boeing has the factory all ready to build these tankers and several thousand proud and eager employees ready to make them! Spend the dollars here instead of paying for their unemployment and whatever other costs it takes to aid the laid off taxpayer!
    Makes more sense doesn’t it??

  22. As a European who loves America, I try not to get involved in US/Europe or Boeing/Airbus disputes. I would like to make these points, though:

    1. Customers, including governments, can buy whatever they like. They don’t have to justify their decisions to the sellers or third parties.

    2. If they favour their industrial base, then by definition the performance of the plane is less important in their decision.

    In the case of the tanker, evidence is that the A330 model is better and better value than the 767 one. The Australians, who don’t have an axe to grind and usually buy American, went European this time. There were process issues in the last selection, but there is no reason to dispute the Air Force’s judgment of the KC-45 as the better multi-role tanker.

    In the case of the A400M, the consortium had a choice of a US/Canadian engine that would be cheaper and lower risk as well as having useful political advantages in North America. Instead they went for a home-grown solution that has put the whole project into jeopardy.

    It’s legitimate to consider industrial base issues, but the trade-off may be a less functional plane for our soldiers, and almost certainly a worse deal for the taxpayers. It seems to me that both Europe and America have lessons to learn here.

  23. FF2, thank you for your reasoned and measured comments.

    I would never advocate an “inferior” product for our armed forces. Tankers are logistic aircraft; not the ‘tip of the spear’ that actually place ordnance on target. In this case, both entrants met the conditions of the RFP and the USAF acknowledged that either could perform the job. Given these facts, I prefer that the U.S. company be given preference. Also, I am loathe to see the U.S. taxpayer fund the presence of a foreign competitor to what is one of our largest competitors. It’s not just about the tanker. There are strategic issues at stake, issues that the last administration blithely ignored. I sense that the Obama administration favors more of an “industrial policy” approach to these things. I could be wrong. Time will tell.

    Frankly, I would endorse the idea of a ‘dollar for dollar, euro for euro’ trade off whereby the airbus countries abandon the A400M and buy a C-130/C-17 mix. In return, the U.S. abandons the KC-767 from consideration and purchases the KC-30.

    This is the only way I see to get to “win-win” that will satisfy most of the politicians. It probably won’t make the WA state delegation happy, but I’m confident something could be worked out.

  24. Aurora,
    You said,
    ‘… I am loathe to see the U.S. taxpayer fund the presence of a foreign competitor to what is one of our largest competitors.’

    In the next paragraph you said…

    ‘Frankly, I would endorse the idea … whereby the airbus countries abandon the A400M and buy a C-130/C-17 mix. In return, the U.S. abandons the KC-767 from consideration and purchases the KC-30.’

    So what happens to the ‘strategic issues’ above?

  25. Ukair, good question. Boeing is out of the tanker business; Airbus is out of the transport business. Something (less) for everyone. Unfortunately, that’s the only way I can see an outcome that will satisfy most politicians and get the USAF their large airbus. Will it happen? Probably the day after Hillary Clinton solves the Palestinian homeland issue.

    Failing that, us “protectionist” Americans will keep spewing our vitriol against those “free trading” French and western Europeans. KC-767 for the USAF; A400M for the airbus air forces–whenever it flies.

  26. There seems to be the notion… Accepted “fact” by some of our European friends (Sincerely felt BTW) that the A330 is “better”. May I remind everyone in this discussion that according to the RPF, both designs were excellent, and the competition was vey close. According to the GAO, “Boeing had a substantial chance” of winning the KC-X competition back in February of 2008. My own feeling is that politics was a major factor in the awarding of the contract to NG/EADS.

    Points that seem to get lost in this debate. And since the AIrbus is considered “better” (An opinion not shared by most of the tanker crews that will be flying this aircraft. Being a former Air Force officer, this was a widely talked-about subject) why is it that we still have not seen the only KC-30 in existence refueling anything?
    The answer, according to news reports, is that issues still exist with the boom that EADS developed… Which isn’t even being tested on the A330 airframe yet.

    Oh this debate will go on and on. Thankfully, one issue that I will agree with the Obama Administration about… They will award the contract to Boeing. And the American taxpayers will wide up getting a “better” deal in the long run… A 767-400 based tanker or, my preference a KC-777 as well.
    Now on to the thread about the A400M… That will be fun. 🙂

  27. McCain is right. Maintenance for two different types of planes would be far too expensive.
    The DoD should order the airforce tankers only with Boeing and not with Northrop-Grumman/EADS.
    This would also rescue Boeing, as the company is in deep troubles now. Development of the new 787 dreamliner is already 2 years behind schedule now. And the 747-8I upgrade is in acute danger of cancellation, with only the fright version 747-8F development being continued. If AIG cannot find a solvent buyer for the ILFC, Boeing could lose all the 102 commercial airplane orders (mostly 787) of ILFC at once. In a chain reaction this could endanger also the 747-8F program.

  28. It is very interesting that the Buy American crowd does not want to admit that there is no American Made when it comes to airframes that are in the 400 K takeoff weight class. The recent actions by airframe manufactures to spread the wealth is on going and international in nature as it should be. After all the airframes are sold around the world and flown around the world. So why shouldn’t the world participate in their manufacture? The War-fighter deserve the best from who ever makes it and as a taxpayer we should get the best at the best price and on time, not 3 or 4 years late and not able to meet the specs.!

  29. Jay, you have a good point but unfortunately, nobody cares about that. As soon as Norm Dicks starts waiving his hands and say that Boeing told him 44,000 jobs will be lost, the debate ends.
    But you are also wrong. I believe that there is one plane which is 100% sourced in one country. If Scott doesn’t correct me then it’s the C-17. So if we follow the Aurora Plan, then after spending 5 billion, Europe should cancel the A400M, order 100% US made C-17s, then sell 60% US made KC-45s to the USAF. It looks, to me, like a deal of a lifetime and if Sal’s European friends do not want it, then I have no idea why.
    Sal you are right, politics played the decisive part in this sad saga. But I am afraid politics stopped this deal, not created it. After the deal was done, all hell broke loose. Seriously, it was a fantastic piece of theatre. Dicks shouting that it’s the Congress Committee that holds the purse strings and that this deal aint gonna happen. I was watching this specticle with my mouth open, expecting ‘Freedom Fries’ to be back on the Congress canteen menu. Did somebody say ‘Shock and Awe’? No I have new name ‘Dicks and Awe’!
    So to see this furore again, purely, for comedy factor… Bring on this competition 🙂

    Sal, as far as the A330 v 767 is concerned, I purely rely on the results of the previous competitions, when they went head to head. The GAO never said which one is better, it looked at whether the USAF followed the right procedures or not. It will be interesting to see another contest outside of the countries involved.
    As for the ‘bad’ boom, could you provide more information please, it will be interesting to find out.

  30. The sad truth is probably all of our tax dollars will have been spent on the mortgages of irresponsible homebuyers and the military will have to resort to re fueling using a garden hose and a 50 gallon drum of fuel! The parts on these poor old tankers will be held on with duct tape….

    I think its time for my 4 Boeing employee family members to start practicing saying “welcome to wal mart”….

    Trying to share some humor here, but it is all quite possible.

  31. UKair, the C-17 is a poor configuration from what I have been told, but yes, load capable and American made. As far as the issues with which airframe is a better platform to meet the requirements for the next tanker you may want to read this article: http://www.dodbuzz.com/2008/07/15/why-the-air-force-picked-northrops-tanker/ . I think it will answer some of your questions.

    Dari Jordan, I feel your pain and concern, I spent a few years with Big B myself. I don’t think there is a good out look for any aerospace work, some will make through but a fair number will need to find other work. This environment has always been circulative in nature, work a few years then move; however I was lucky enough to stay in one location for about twenty years.

  32. The C-17 is a poor configuration? Jay, I don’t know where that came from, but if you talk to the crews who fly the aircraft, the troops who depend on its strategic capabilities and the Air Forces that depend on it, I think you will get the facts. Not the fiction that the A400M apologists are spewing.

    Up until that comment, although I disagreed with you I respected your views.

    The C-17 is considered to be the finest strategic airlifter available and has no peers.

  33. By the way, the writer of that article you mentioned is a paid consultant for – guess who – Northrop Grumman.

    A truly unbiased analysis.

  34. Sal, The C-17 is a poor configuration to be a tanker due to the large amount of turbulence from the chop off fuselage and close spacing of the engines, not to mention the high empennage so I’ve been told by a few AF pilots. As a airlifted, well MD did a great job just like the F-18 and yes the author may be however his points are very interesting if factual.

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