Tankers: to split or not to split

Update, May 4: Veto threat over split tanker effort: read all about it.

Update, May 3:

US Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), chair of a House appropriations committee, has dropped (for the moment) his effort to insert into the FY2010 budget language requiring a split buy between Boeing and Northrop for the KC-X tanker. See this story.

Original Post:

Well, blow us down. Loren Thompson, the defense analyst, now favors a split buy.

He’s been all over the map on this procurement. A big defender of the Boeing KC-767 lease deal when that was on the table. For the KC-767 vs. the Northrop KC-30.  Defending the KC-30 award after it was given. Supporting the Boeing protest. Now this.

Followers (including this column) of Thompson, who is quoted frequently as a defense expert, respect his thinking but can’t help be a little baffled on this program.

Thompson’s rationale is what we’ve been advocating since we began following the competition several years ago: split the buy for operational reasons. The two tankers are differently sized: some missions are better suited for the KC-767 and some are better suited for the KC-30. Double the procurement, retire the old KC-135s more quickly.

On the other hand, US Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Boeing/WA), claims he was quoted out of context by KIRO TV a while back, which reported Dicks could “live with” a split buy. Now Dicks is back on his sole-source band wagon (for Boeing), even though Boeing now is fine with the idea.

And now, a plug for our Eco-Aviation conference. More information may be found here.

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2 Comments on “Tankers: to split or not to split

  1. So the White House is now “involved”? What does this portend? Was it merely to remove an unwelcome distraction from the budget process or is it an indication of which way this tanker thing is going to turn? Ignoring Murtha’s own political problems for a moment, there are a couple of good possibilities if the split buy is taken off the table:
    1. Another competition, with a winner and a loser and an inevitable protest by the loser and never-ending acrimony in Congress and the press.
    2. Sole source to Northrop-Grumman and EADS, providing jobs and assembly work in a state that voted for John McCain.
    3. Sole source to Boeing to preserve the defense infrastructure in WA state and Kansas (another red state, but with unionized aerospace workers) and avoid the necessity to lay off unionized workers and avoiding the unpleasant prospect of turning Everett, WA, into Flint, MI (no offense to Flint, but they have seen better times).
    4. Defer any tanker procurement and rehab the KC-135Es.

    Whatever the calculus going into the decision, politics will trump all.

  2. The procurement will be split. Resistance is futile-no way around this.

    I’ll even go further.

    This will lead to the first very tentative ‘baby steps’ to an AirBus/Boeing merger way way way down the road to lockout the competition.

    “Boeing and Airbus-Together at last.”

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