Former defense official favors split tanker buy

George Talbot of The Mobile Press-Register has an article about John Lehman, a former defense official in the Reagan administration, favoring a split buy for the KC-X program.

As readers of this column know, we’ve favored a split buy since the start of Round Two of the competition. We’ve felt that there are some missions for which Boeing’s KC-767 is better suited and some for which Northrop Grumman’s KC-30 is better suited. We also believe that the only way a splut buy makes financial sense for the two companies is if DOD doubles the procurement to 24-36 airplanes a year–the currently proposed procurement at half this rate means it will take far too long to replace the nearly 500 KC-135s that date to the 1960s.

9 Comments on “Former defense official favors split tanker buy

  1. I am a huge fan of (former) Secretary (of the Navy) John Lehman. That said, note what Mr. Lehman is quoted as saying at the end of the article.

    “But he said it’s unlikely that the Obama administration, given its previous opposition, will ever embrace the idea.
    “I’d like to think they’d come around,” he said. “But as Damon Runyan used to say, that ain’t the way to bet.” ”

    Who else will this newspaper find that favors a split buy? Surely there’s another former government official out there willing to take this bold position? And if there is, it will be equally irrelevant.

    A split buy makes sense only if its the KC-767 & the KC-777. Otherwise, we will continue to get mired down in politics, protests, and “war without end”.

  2. The options are simple – split the contract to two tankers or continue to fly the three thankers the USAF / USMC have today: KC-135, KC-10 and KC-130 indefinately.

    The third option of going with a single vendor is just too expensive and wouldn’t pass Congress OR would seriously hurt US firms FMS sales.

    I manage a discussion forum on Linked-in called the Aircraft Lifecycle Wikinomics forum – and the members (about 70/30 commercial to military – aviation operators, engineers, logisticians and maintainers) lean about 70/30 (coincidence) in the belief that a split contract is cheaper – but only if the USAF / AFMC changed how they sustained the aircraft and only if TRANSCOM moved to a geographic operations model of each a/c type.

    Incidentally the “split buy” that we discussed was a KC-45 (A330 MRTT) and KC-767 not a KC-777 which makes no sense since no one in the world would buy a KC-777. One of the many reasons a A330 / B767 split deal reduces lifecycle costs when compared to a single vendor model is that you can operate the a/c geograpichally in alignment with other countries that are also operating them and enter into share services support contracts and outsource sustainment capabilities and pool parts – something you can’t do with a 777 configuration.

  3. Too bad the couldn’t run a competition on the systems (e.g. flight suite) and the one that is better must be incorporated in both aircraft. Same with the engines (at least use them from the same manufacturer)? Sure the costs of incorporating all of this would be higher for the company that loses the system competition but then they can decide if they want to participate or not. Of course as one aircraft is FBW and the other is a bit more of a classic makes this a moot point.

  4. Doesn’t make any sense to me. You either go for the better plane (A330) or the more American plane (767). Except for this, there’s little to choose between them.

    A split buy indicates that you can’t decide whether it’s better to buy better or more American to buy American!

  5. To FF2, I could not agree more. What are tenders for, to get the best plane for the job. If you can’t convince patriots that this is the way to go, restrict bids to US corporations only and wait for the next WTO anti competition suit filed by Airbus.

  6. It helps to convince patriots when the competitive process is fair and works properly. People tend to forget in this debate that the GAO found that the selection was flawed. If the GAO hadn’t upheld sections of the protest and recommended a recompete, it would be a purely political decision here.

  7. John Lehman’s comments should be discounted considerably. What’s behind his comments anyway? He’s an old Reagan Navy Sec’ty famous for massive spending on the Navy’s “600 ship” program, the failed A-12 stealth Navy plane, the F/A-18, etc. Massive unchecked spending. I suppose, during the Reagan days we can afford and the cold-war could justify dual tankers, triple tankers, even 4 types of tankers, but in the context of this era, it would be wrong.

    From a cost perspective, imagine the considerable duplication– from operational systems, spare parts, spare parts staging, storage, pilot training, pilot certification tracking and their locations, on-board and ground crew training, and the massive IT systems to keep track of it all (we’re all aware of how well the USAF keeps track of stuff when they ship nuclear warhead fuses instead of helicopter batteries to Taiwan, and fly nuclear bombs cross country without even knowing it). Imagine, a request for KC-767 tires and getting KC-30 tires, or the wrong fuel bladder, or something worse, like a wrong engine. Imagine.

    DC lobbyist created Navy man, John Lehman’s Air Force comments, and it suggests he’s on the side of Alabama Republicans’ strong desire for an Airbus plant in Mobile. Nothing more, nothing less.

  8. Air Force Tanker Aircraft – Overhaul the fleet!
    Air to air refueling is at the heart of our Air Force doctrine. Without air-to-air refueling, the Air Force would not be able to wage war. Nuclear deterrence, rapid global reach/power, and close air support are examples that barely scratch the surface of the missions and capabilities that benefit from air to air refueling. The aircraft that implement this priceless capability are growing old and maintenance costs are continuing to rise. Either Boeing (Boeing 767) or Northrop Grumman (Airbus A330) will replace the KC-135 Stratotanker as soon as the Air Force successfully negotiates a contract. Some individuals support a “split tanker buy” as a solution to avoid lengthy protests from the losing bidder. I support the “split tanker buy” because in additional to replacing the KC-135, it is also time to replace our inefficient wide body KC-10 Extender tanker fleet. The logical solution is to pursue the procurement of two modern air-to-air refueling aircraft that are already in use and employed by our international partners.
    While the KC-10 is an exemplary tanker platform, its design has many inefficient limitations. Take for example the #2 engine on the tail. This represents a maintenance challenge when it is time to repair or replace an engine that is three stories high. Additional labor, time, and equipment required to work on this engine is excessively higher than a wing mounted engine. Both the Boeing and Northrop Grumman tanker aircraft have easily maintainable wing mounted engines.
    Additionally, the KC-10 design utilizes a Flight Engineer who represents the systems expert in terms of operating the aircraft. Much in the same way modern avionics replaced the Navigator; modern aircraft are replacing the Flight Engineer. Automation allows for the elimination of an additional crew position while increasing payload capability. FedEx, the second largest owner of DC-10 aircraft, is currently upgrading their DC-10-30 fleet. This modification automates the Flight Engineer position allowing the company to reduce manpower while increasing overall payload capability. Both Boeing and Northrop Grumman tankers have eliminated the Flight Engineer position with automation.
    The two more efficient aircraft competing to become the next Air Force Tanker are the Boeing 767 and the Airbus A330. These aircraft are in wide use all across the world not only in the civilian sector, but in the military sector as well. Boeing has contracts to provide Italy and Japan each with four KC-767 tanker aircraft. According to the Airbus military website, “A330…has won all international tanker competitions with contracts signed by the governments of Australia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.” The ability to involve coalition partners increases dramatically when countries are using the same equipment. Purchasing both aircraft would foster international partnerships, ease current Air Force tanker shortfalls by employing allied tanker support in future conflicts, and allow individuals of the United States Air Force to promote partnership in exchange programs.
    It is time to overhaul and replace the Air Force tanker fleet. The KC-10 is an inefficient aircraft in terms of maintenance and additional aircrew. While the civilian version is still in use by cargo companies like FedEx, even they are modifying their aircraft to reduce manpower and increase cargo capabilities. Retiring the KC-10 along with the KC-135 and purchasing two new modern tanker aircraft will modernize our 1950’s and 1970’s fleet, align our capabilities with our allies, and bring the backbone of our Air Force into the 21st century.

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