KC-X tanker DRFP released

Update, September 28: DOD Buzz reports Boeing is going to offer two bids, one each for the KC-767 and KC-777. Here is the link. We think this is a brilliant move.

Original Post:

Here is the link to the RFP. We’ll add information after we’ve read it, which will take all weekend. One thing we did find right away: the USAF is asking for field performance data on runways 6,000 ft to 15,000 ft. This means the Boeing 777 isn’t zapped on this criteria; the 2006 RFP required 7,000 ft. runways. The Systems Requirements document does include a 7,000 ft. runway requirement. SRD document pg. 26,

On another requirement from the 2006 competition: spare engines had to be transportable in the C-130 cargo plane. A 777 GE 90 wouldn’t fit; this requirement has been changed to the C-17. The C-17 has an 18-foot wide cargo bay; the GE-90 is slightly over 10 ft wide (bare engine, without nacelle). SDR pg. 40,

Here is Boeing’s statement, issued upon receipt of the DRFP:

“Our next step is to conduct a detailed review of the document. We want to understand how requirements will be defined and prioritized and how the proposals will be evaluated. That information will help us decide which plane to offer or whether to offer both planes. We appreciate that there will be frequent, open discussion with the U.S. Air Force as we go forward. Both the Air Force and the American taxpayer will benefit from the tanker options we can offer. Boeing has a KC-7A7 ‘family of tankers’ available to meet the warfighter’s requirements. Whether it’s the agile, flexible 767-based tanker or the large 777-based tanker, Boeing will deliver a combat-ready tanker with maximum capability at the lowest cost.”

What is noteworthy is the reference to offering the KC-767 and the KC-777. This is contrary to stated DOD intent to buy only one airplane. This is something we suggested Boeing do for the 2006 competition on the theory it would checkmate the Northrop bid. While we think the 777 is too big for the KC-X competition, a dual-offer by Boeing simply cannot be matched by Northrop.

Northrop believes its KC-30 is the right-sized aircraft in the sweet spot.

Here is Northrop’s statement:

“Northrop Grumman applauds the Defense Department and U.S. Air Force for re-starting the effort to replace its Eisenhower-era KC-135 aerial refueling tankers, and the company is looking forward to competing for and winning the contract again.

“Northrop Grumman will review the draft RFP and provide the U.S. Air Force with comments on the draft in short order.  We will defer further public comments until we have completed our review.”

Here is the synopsis as publish on the Business Opportunity website.


The purpose of this notice is to provide industry with a Draft Request for Proposal (DRFP) for the KC-X Tanker Modernization Program. Documents associated with this DRFP are attached.


The Air Force presently operates a nearly 50-year old fleet of KC-135 aerial refueling tanker aircraft which requires replacement. The KC-X tanker modernization program is the first step in this process. Key performance capabilities to be provided by the KC-X include: (1) aerial refueling of all current and programmed fixed-wing receiver aircraft; (2) range payload at least as good as the KC-135R; (3) same sortie boom and drogue capability as well as simultaneous drogue, multi-point refueling capability; (4) tanker receiver capability to enhance KC-X fleet effectiveness; (5) airlift capability to carry palletized cargo, passengers, and/or medical patients on the entire main cargo deck, (6) the ability to operate anywhere, anytime with global communication, navigation, and air traffic management; (7) survivability features allowing operation in low to medium threat environments including: detection and defeat of infrared missiles, covert lighting to enable refueling in hostile airspace, and electro-magnetic hardening to protect the aircrew and aircraft; (8) crew and passenger protection from chemical and biological environments; and (9) net centric information exchange with joint services. The primary KC-X mission is to provide aerial refueling support to joint and allied forces engaged in homeland defense, global air-bridge deployments and theater conflicts. The KC-X will also augment existing transport aircraft by providing an enduring cargo capability for sustained materiel, passenger, medical/humanitarian aid transportation.


This procurement will be conducted in accordance with Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Part 15, as supplemented. As the initial phase of a comprehensive aerial refueling recapitalization strategy, the KC-X Program will begin replacement of the warfighting capability provided by the current aerial refueling fleet. This program will develop and acquire up to 179 modern aerial refueling tanker aircraft based on existing commercial aircraft designs; a production rate targeted at 15 aircraft per year is anticipated. Five years of interim contractor support will also be procured in support of the long term goal of standing up a completely organic government repair capability. The contractor will ensure the aircraft acquired, including integrated military systems, are certified as flight worthy by the FAA (or foreign equivalent) during the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase of the program.


The KC-X DRFP is attached. Written questions and comments from all interested parties regarding any section of the DRFP are due at the address above (hard copy) and an electronic version should be sent to
836AESG.KC-XRFP6600@wpafb.af.mil , not later than 4PM EDT 26 October 2009. All questions and comments will be considered for possible incorporation into a subsequent draft and/or final RFP. We will only review feedback in the form of written questions or comments. We will post responses to questions and comments on the FedBizOpps website. No response will be provided to any question or comment with proprietary or restrictive markings.

This pre-solicitation announcement is not to be construed as a formal solicitation (Invitation for Bid (IFB) or a Request for Proposal (RFP)). The Government does not intend to award a contract on the basis of this notice. This notice is for information and planning purposes only. The Government will not provide reimbursement of costs associated with any documentation or communication submitted in response to this notice. Any submitted documentation, upon delivery, becomes the property of the U.S. Government and will not be returned. Questions or comments to this notice should be addressed to the Contracting Officer.

Before a KC-X Request for Proposal is released, a Notice of Contract Action will be published at least 15 days prior to such release.

24 Comments on “KC-X tanker DRFP released

  1. Hi Scott

    “While we think the 777 is too big for the KC-X competition, a dual-offer by Boeing simply cannot be matched by Northrop.”

    I’ll bite. I think it can be matched. EADS could re-engine the A330-200 with two GEnx-2B-69s and the A340-500HGW with four derated GEnX-2B-60s. The inboard two pylons (+ nacelle and engine) on the A345 would be nearly identical with that on the A332.

    Do note that the A340-500 have about 10 percent greater fuel capacity than the 777-200LR (even with three auxillary fuel tanks), and that a GEnx-2B-60 would be at least 10 percent more efficient than the Trent-500.

    Northrop/EADS could offer a KC330/KC345 combination powered by the same engines, identical Air Refueling Boom System (ARBS), (almost) identical cockpits, identical avionics, identical survivability and protection measures etc. However, they would need to relocate the re-fueling pods on a KC-345 further outboard (in a similar fashion to how those pods are attached on another quad, namely the KC-135), and lengthen the existing fuel lines etc

    The extra costs of a KC345 over that of a KC-30/45 would be for that of the extra pair of engines and the costs for the additional aircraft structure, and the additional centre gear 4 wheel bogie.

    So, for about an increase in price of about 20 percent for a KC-345 over that of a KC-30/45, mainly due to the additional hardware required on the bigger tanker, the USAF could obtain, for very little additional costs, a heavy-lift tanker with a maximum fuel capacity of around 250,000 lbs, which is around 200,000 lbs (80 PERCENT!!!) more than that of the KC-30/45.

  2. Correction: Last paragraph should read (note: 450,000 lbs):

    So, for about an increase in price of about 20 percent for a KC-345 over that of a KC-30/45, mainly due to the additional hardware required on the bigger tanker, the USAF could obtain, for very little additional costs, a heavy-lift tanker with a maximum fuel capacity of around 450,000 lbs, which is around 200,000 lbs (80 PERCENT!!!) more than that of the KC-30/45. 🙂

  3. The airlines don’t want 767s either, why would the Air Force?

    Lowest passenger mile costs to an airline do not equate to best fit for a tanker.

  4. Mainly because the current Trent-500 powered A345/A346 can’t compete with the 77W/77L on CASM (which primarily is due to the higher fuel burn on the quads). Enter a derated GEnx-engine (GEnx-2B-60) into the equation, and you would have a KC-345 with roughly the same fuel burn as a KC-777(LR/F), but with the former having about 10 percent more fuel capacity and a significantly lower acquisition cost than a KC-777(LR/F).

    Also, I’m sure the Air Force don’t mind operating quads for operational reasons, and when the fuel burn of the quad is about the same as that of the twin, thanks to the quad carrying the latest generation engine technologies, they would likely pick the quad over the twin.

  5. Scott, thanks for a great commentary of the tanker RFP.

    OV-099, interesting idea but not going to happen for many reasons. NG/EADS best offer is the A330MRTT. Soon we will some ‘positive’ news coming out from Airbus regarding the RAAF A330 MRTT to start pushing this plane.

    As I stated previously, KC-777 is a fantasy. Boeing would not go with it. The development cycle, the current backlog, the price (can you see it being with in 1% of either 767 or an A330? – no chance) are all against it. The risk is too high. For this competition, forget it.

    Boeing’s best chance is the 767. Go with the Japane or an Italian version. They have just fixed it, it is flying, it is working. Add the boom, fly test it and they can offer the cheapest plane. Can it meet the 7000ft requirement?

    • UKair, I agree that a dual-offer from either competitor is not very likely in this competition. However, a KC-345 powered by the same engines as the KC-30/45 would be a very good KC-10 replacement. If NG/EADS prevails, they could offer USAF a KC-45*/KC-47** dual package some years hence, thereby making a KC-Y competition mute.

      *KC-45 powered by GEnx-2B-69 engines.
      **KC-47 (A345-tanker) powered by GEnx-2B.60 engines.

      • I really think that the key parameters are risk and price. Integrating new engines, tanker equipment and systems will cost too much and has associated risks with it. I am not saying it can’t be done though. But both companies will not be doing any sort of experimenting. They will go with a proven concept, B767 and the A330. I think that if the A330 MRTT wins, the KC-10s will be later converted into that also.

  6. “Integrating new engines, tanker equipment and systems will cost too much and has associated risks with it.”

    …. Not if it´s done in parallel with a major revamp of the A330-series along the lines of the 737NG (i.e. A330-800/900), and if final assembly would be moved in its entirety to Mobile. Apart from keeping the wing as it is, many of the design concepts for the A350 Mk1 could be “transplanted” into a A330NG-series. Also, because of a very similar pylon design and identical nacelles, integrating a GEnx-2B on the the two inboard positions on a KC-345 would basically have been paid for by the re-engining of the A330.

    The total evaluated price (TEP) will apparently ONLY be base on these four factors:

    1. Total proposed price from manufacturer
    2. IFARA adjustment (how many aircraft you need vs. KC-135)
    3. Fuel burn adjustment
    4. MILCON costs

    It looks like NG/EADS will likely win on the IFARA adjustment, but will likely loose on the fuel burn adjustment, that is if they don´t re-engine the aircraft.

  7. “On another requirement from the 2006 competition: spare engines had to be transportable in the C-130 cargo plane. A 777 GE 90 wouldn’t fit; this requirement has been changed to the C-17. The C-17 has an 18-foot wide cargo bay; the GE-90 is slightly over 10 ft wide (bare engine, without nacelle). SDR pg. 40,”

    Is that 10 ft for the engine core minus fan, or is that including the fan assembly?

    In any case, in the prior SRD ( C-130 transportability for the engine was an Objective requirement, not a Threshold requirement, so it would not have disqualified a GE90 powered aircraft.

  8. Some people are forgetting USAF’s concern about development risk the last time around, even for a tweaked 767 (the “Frankentanker” PR fuss, IMJ unfair as mix and match of already tooled parts is good practice for a specific mission with large production quantity).

  9. The USAF isn’t going to buy two Boeing tankers. If it could afford two different tanker programs, it could have cut the gordion knot by acquiring both the KC-767 and KC-45. There can be only one.

    What the new system does is make the price of the KC-767 critical. If Boeing can offer a low enough price before the three-factor adjustment to offset the KC-45’s higher IFARA score, that’s it. Boeing wins. Alternately, if Airbus decides to practically give away its large aircraft at the price of a smaller aircraft, the USAF gets a huge bargain.

    Basically the USAF is deciding this on price, which represents a departure from the earlier contest.

  10. Royce,

    I think you are missing one critical point here. If Boeing offers a combination of 120 KC-767s and say 59 KC-777s their total costs will be very close to 179 KC-30s and likely better. If you use list prices for the A330-200 (176.3 mil), 767-200 ER (127.5 mil), and 777-200ER (205.5 mil), the Boeing 767/777 offer comes in 13.1% cheaper than the KC-30 per frame. Even if you assume worst case with the KC-767 being only 10 mil per frame cheaper (like the frankentanker was) than the KC-30 and the KC-777 being 20% more than the KC-30 the Boeing offer would still only be 2.6% more expensive than the KC-30.

    Now this is where it starts to get interesting. Boeing still wins the fuel burn adjustment, 120 KC-767s will be anywhere between 20 to 30 percent better than the KC-30. Boeing claims 24 percent if you add in the 6 percent reduction from the winglets this goes to 31.5 percent so Boeing will win this adjustment. Add in the MILCON adjustments and Boeing will still win here as the 120 KC-767s will be cheaper than 120 KC-30s while the 59 KC-777s will be roughly equal to 59 KC-30s in MILCON cost.

    And now things start to get really interesting. According to Secretary Gates in his Sept 24 Briefing to Congress the IFARA model will not necessarily favor the larger tanker all the time it will assign points on mission’s where size and fuel count to the larger tanker and it will assign points to a smaller tanker where the mission is space limited due to facility limitations or missions where getting more booms in the air is the most important aspect.

    If Boeing is allowed to optimize their package for the particular scenario it is not a case of winning some scenarios and losing some. Boeing wins every scenario or very nearly every scenario, where a bigger tanker is favored, throw in the 777, or where more cargo or pax are favored or more range is needed the 777 wins. In scenarios where space or booms in the air are the limiting factor just throw more 767s at the task. And if a scenario involves both limited facility space at one airport and a long range transport need, well use both the 767 and 777 to win the scenario. It wouldn’t be a case like last time where the A330 was given a bonus of 22 frames by being the best at a majority of scenarios, Boeing’s 767/777 combination would blow the model apart and decimate the A330. The Air Force might not be happy with this but with the way the RFI is currently structure they may not be able to prevent it, and EADS IFARA extra credit clause could become a nightmare that would doom their bid to complete irrelevance.

    • It’s not the list price of the aircraft that’s the issue. It’s paying for development of two separate aircraft, the construction and maintenance of two separate lines, paying twice for operational testing and evaluation, paying to set up two logistics systems. It’s not impossible if the two aircraft add different capabilities that the air force wants. For example, we are buying two different transports right now- the C-130 and C-17. However, the tanker competitors are close enough in size and capabilities that I don’t see the USAF going to the expense of buying the two aircraft at once. Procurement money is extremely tight for the USAF right now.

  11. I agree with Royce. I assume the Air Force has already ensured either the A330 or the 767 can meet all the basic criteria. I assume also that they won’t get within a 1% difference. Therefore the “best value” component won’t kick in. At this point, whoever delivers the model at the cheapest price wins. Probably either plane can win this.

    I think the Air Force is being smart this time. Awarding the competition on price is likely to to be the least poisonous outcome for them politically. It doesn’t mean there won’t be lots of politics around and after the competition. But at least the Air Force is off the hook.

  12. FF2,

    The way I read the RFI, the TEP is not calculated until the adjustments are taken into account. In the overall flowchart of the process presented to congress by Secretary Gates the TEP is clearly presented as being the outcome of 1. Total proposed price from manufacturer, 2. IFARA adjustment (how many aircraft you need vs. KC-135), 3. Fuel burn adjustment, 4. MILCON costs. OV-099 stated the same in his post earlier.

    Also, a KC-767 based off the Italian KC-767 would be much cheaper than 1 percent than the KC-330, EADS/NG would simply never agree to participate in such a contest where the outcome was a 99% plus probability they would lose. The simple fact is that if Boeing offers a KC-767 only solution, they win the Total proposed price, fuel burn adjustment, and MILCON adjustment, but will likely lose the IFARA adjustment. In this case the IFARA adjustment might be enough to sway the contest in NG/EADS favor like it did last time when the AF gave NG EADS a 22 plane advantage or the equivalent of a 12.3% cost reduction on each frame.

    If Boeing goes with a mixed 767/777 offer they will probably win or meet EADS/NGs total proposed price, after all they don’t need to build new assembly facilities, aircraft miitarization facilities, sub-contractor facilies, a new facility to build the EADS/CASA boom and so on. In addition they already operate the Kelly AFB maintenance depot for Boeing which was designed to handle C-5A maintenance so there is no issue new maintenance facilites even with the larger 777. So as long as they are close to the KC-30 they will would win the fuel burn, MILCON, and IFARA adjustments and likely win the contest. A Boeing 767/777 would win all of these as long as a 2-plane offer was not handicapped in some way. There simply would be no way to win for NG/EADS in this scenario unless they offered a really, really cheap KC-30.

    NG/EADS entire strategy in this bid is the same as for the last round, they are planning on winning the IFARA adjustment and adjusting the price of the more expensive KC-30 downward. If they can’t win the IFARA adjustment they can’t win the contract, its that simple.

    I think you need to realize Boeing has had over a year to play with the Air Force’s IFARA model since the last contest. They would not be seriously talking up a 767/777 combo unless they thought such a combination could soundly trounce the KC-30 in the IFARA model. There is simply no reason for them to add the 777 to the mix unless they wan’t to use it to scew the IFARA into their favor.

  13. John, when I say cost to deliver the “model”, I am referring to process you describe including the adjustments. There is indeed a logic to offering a large and a small airplane as you suggest. The downsides I see in it are development cost to the manufacturer and deployment cost to the Air Force.

    If we assume the second cost is balanced out by matching the right size of plane to the task in hand, that still leaves the extra development cost. I think this could be important in a contest decided on cost for two reasons: the development cost of the 777 tanker is both additional to the 767 and much higher than either the 767 or the A330. Both Boeing and Airbus have off the shelf versions that they can offer for the latter models. The 777 will be a new tanker development that Boeing will have to charge the Air Force for.

  14. FF2,

    Your correct there is a downside in terms of development cost, however, you need to balance that against the benefit of winning the IFARA adjustment which will likely count for more points than the MILCON and fuel burn adjustment.

    The one area where I disagree is on the development cost of a 777 tanker. You need to remember that the KC-767 adv and 777 share the same cockpit and even nose section, so Boeing’s work in developing an advanced cockpit for the 767 is equally applicable to the the 777. Also, the refeuling boom developed for the 767 could also be used for the 777, along with most of the military electronics and other items developed for the plane.

    In essence I view the development bill like this, most of the money to develop the KC-767 and KC-30 has already been spent, the big difference in developmental costs between the two is EADS/NG need to spend $600 million to build a new assembly plant in Alabama. If Boeing could develop a tanker version of the 777 from their work on the KC-767 for around $600 million they would not really be disadvantaged vs. NG/EADS. Furthermore the 22 plane advantage that EADS/NG picked up from the IFARA in the previous contest was worth around $4 billion to their bid (note for a 35 billion contract for 179 planes each counts for in total around $200 million of the contract)

    I think the math is pretty simple, if Boeing can keep the development cost of the 777 low enough it could help their bid tremendously. If it allows them to pick up a $4 billion advantage like the IFARA gave NG/EADS in the last contest it is an absolute no brainer. I don’t claim that Boeing will definitely go with a combined BID. They will however, be doing their homework and weighing the advantages of including the 777 in their bid in terms of an additional IFARA adjustment vs. the increased develpmentmental cost and changes to the fuel burn adjustment and MILCON advantage they would get with the 767.

    I do believe that under the right circumstances a combined 767/777 bid could be a very strong bid considering the way the contest has been structured. The IFARA adjustment was the key component in NG/EADS selection in the last round and if Boeing determines that they can make the IFARA adjument work the same way for them this time around that it did for NG/EADS last time it might just be their best chance at winning the contest.

  15. John, even though the 767 and 777 share the same fuselage section-41 (which is the part of the aircraft from the very tip of the nose to just behind the cockpit windows), the 767 do not have a full fly-by-wire (FBW) flight control system, although some control surfaces are electronically actuated.

    What does this mean? It means that the 767 and the 777 does not “share” the same cockpit. I´ve noticed that Rick Lemaster, Boeing´s program manager for their “KC-X tanker” has been saying that; “we are going to put a digital cockpit into
    the airplane so it is every bit as advanced
    as what we are putting into the 777 or 787.
    This will not be the same 767 described
    several years ago.”

    At the same time Boeing has been looking to drive down costs in this, the next round, of the US Air Force’s KC-X tanker competition, and now they want to put a “digital cockpit” on the 767??? Yeah, right!

    Any industry insider would know that such an undertaking can effectively only be a “cosmetic” make over, that is if they want to drive costs down. Boeing knows, of course, that it requires a massive redesign of the control surfaces to implement FBW into an existing (mechanical) aircraft, and consequently, the cost versus benefit ratio doesn’t favor converting aircraft such as the 767 to FBW.

  16. OV-099,

    Boeing already has put the digital 777 cockpit into the 767 without any issues at all. The 767-400 uses the same digital cockpit as the 777. The issues with the 777 being FBW and the 767-400 not being FBW were solved a long time ago. Whether the linkages are mechanical or FBW is not an issue with the way the RFP is written. Airbus will not gain an advantage for having a FBW system in the A330 and Boeing will not be penalized for using mechanical and hydraulic linkages in the 767. This is a complete non-issue. Boeing solved the issue of incorporating the digital 777 cockpit into the 767 design over 10 years ago. Sharing an updated digital cockpit between the two designs is a trivial issue at this point.

    • John, it is an issue as far as maintenance issues are required. Or are you going to tell me that repairing and maintaining a fly-by-wire aircraft is the same as maintaining a cable and pulley aircraft? If this is what one calls commonality, they might as well split the deal between the A330 and the B777 then.

  17. John, the cockpit of the 767-400 is not a clone of that in the 777. Please take a look at the following article, and you’ll see what motivated Boeing to upgrade the 767-400 cockpit:


    As for “digital cockpits”; even the original 757/767 cockpits were “digital”, while the 747 received a digital cockpit with the 747-400. Only with the 777, did Boeing integrate a digital cockpit with a full FBW-system.

    So, even though the 767-400 was upgraded with a cockpit similar to those on the 747-400, 737NG and the 777, and that from a pilot’s perspectiv, the 767-400 “feels” more like like a 777 cockpit, the fundamental flight control system architecture on the aircraft is nonetheless still based on pulleys, cranks and wires, and for these reasons, one cannot just assume that the work that’s being done by Boeing on the “avanced” cockpit for the 767-tanker is “equally applicable” to the the 777!

    Conclusion: The 767 and 777 airframes are just too dissimilar in both production and operations/maintenance. Little real commonality between the frames means that Boeing can’t use much of what they’ve developed on the 767-tanker on a hypothetical 777-tanker, except for perhaps the boom, and that they will not be able to leverage their investment on the 767 tanker on this triple seven tanker.

  18. Thx for the great blogging. If it turns out that the AF is willing to take two planes, the 767 and 777, which are completely different, doesn’t that mean a split buy after all? That would solve all the domestic political and international problems. Frankly, I do not see how the AF can get around those political issues without buying both the Boeing and AB products. So, perhaps Boeing has played into AB’s hands buy offering two different planes, with the implicit claim that their two can be as cheap as one.

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