Murtha death bad news for Northrop tanker bid

The death today of US Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, means US Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Boeing/WA) will likely succeed him, and this is bad news for Northrop Grumman and its bid for the KC-X USAF aerial tanker.

Murtha supported a plan to split the buy between Northrop’s KC-30, based on the Airbus A330-200, and Boeing’s KC-767 despite opposition from the Department of Defense for a dual procurement. Murtha believed a split buy was the only solution that would win Congressional funding to replace the 50-year old Boeing KC-135s.

Dicks not only has steadfastly supported the KC-767, he has equally steadfastly opposed a split buy. With Murtha’s voice now stilled, Dicks is in a stronger position to oppose a split buy.

The Final Request for Proposals is due out this month. Northrop threatens to not bid on the contract unless significant changes to the Draft RFP are made to account for the KC-30’s larger fuel, troop and cargo capacity vs. the KC-767. Boeing is prepared to offer a tanker based on the even-larger 777, but this is a conceptual airplane and the DRFP marks down developmental planes vs off-the-shelf offerings such as the KC-30 and KC-767.

20 Comments on “Murtha death bad news for Northrop tanker bid

  1. The KC-767, in proposed USAF form at least, is also a conceptual airplane isn’t it?

    • The KC-767AT in the 2007 competition (the Frankentanker) was the conceptual airplane. We believe the KC-767 Boeing will offer this time will be a version of the Italian tanker.

      • Does the Italian version of the KC-767 reach the fuel offload requirements according to the latest dRFP or does this type also need structural modifications?
        Is there an existing 767 variant complying with all requirements?

  2. Yes, a basic 767 will be compliant with the dRFP. Everything that didn’t work, such as refueling from wings (because of heavy fluttering), 1,200GPM (to refuel C-5s) and other things have been removed from dRFP.

    Does that mean Boeing could start producing them right away, the answer is no.

    • Hi, F14TCT. Has the DRFP been updated lately? Where could I see the changes?

  3. Pingback: Military And Intelligence News Briefs — February 9, 2010 | The Focal Points

  4. I realize that here and elswhere there are the proverbial ‘some’ who view NG’s statements that if the RFP doesn’t allow them to be competitive that they won’t bid to be merely angling for an edge, but I would take it at their word. Read the bio of their new CEO. He’s Capital B ‘Business’. He’s not an ‘airplane’ but a ‘space’ guy, so there is no ‘romanticism involved and this is a contract that they’ve viewed as already spent a good chunk of money pursuing and having won once only to have it ‘stolen’ by political shenanigans.
    If there was ever a contract a company could expect no long-term customer-relations fallout of ‘no-bidding’, this is it. NG has every reason NOT to waste the effort if they think the ‘fix is in’ (again).

    Heh. The ‘Italian Job’ tanker? Ask the Italians how that’s working out for them so far. The way I hear it, nobody’s got more than ~80% of what the AF wants ready to go right now.

    • “having won once only to have it ’stolen’ by political shenanigans.”

      Similarly, some can argue NG “won” or “stole” the contest via “political shenanigans,” as well. For example, it was they who got the USAF to give them “extra credit” for a bigger plane, even when the RFP stated no extra credit would be given.

      This and other simple observations of the process showed the personnel grading that bid did not follow their own bid directives; in layman’s terms, they didn’t follow the instructions they themselves wrote. Boeing followed a well known proper procedure allowing for a bid process review by the independent GAO. Read a summary of the first four of ten GAO’s main findings:

      1. Protest is sustained, where the agency (the USAF), in making the award decision, did not assess the relative merits of the proposals in accordance with the evaluation criteria identified in the solicitation, ….

      2. Protest is sustained, where the agency (the USAF) violated the solicitation’s evaluation provision that “no consideration will be provided for exceeding [key performance parameter] KPP objectives”…

      3. Protest is sustained, where the record does not demonstrate the reasonableness of the agency’s determination that the awardee’s proposed aerial refueling tanker could refuel all current Air Force fixed-wing tanker-compatible receiver aircraft…

      4. Protest is sustained, where the agency conducted misleading and unequal discussions with the protester…

      Conversely, Senator Dick Shelby followed a well know procedure as well when blocking all the administration’s nominations for various posts as leverage towards, once again, modifying the bid request in Northrop-Grummand/EADS’ favor.

      Yes, it’s tough having a contest when the competitors are not the same size. But, against common wisdom, “bigger,” or “more” cannot be a deciding factor; it’s what meets or come closest to requirements that counts. We just hope the USAF knows what it needs, rather than relying on manufacturers to tell them.

      • The problem arises 123 xyz when the competition is framed as a replacement requirement, and how specifically you define replacement. Take the word “Replacement” out and the GAO looses grounds for sustaining a protest.

        No one would argue for instance, if the competition also factored in cross service requirements (E.G USN) – Factored from the start Airlift Flexibility or future sustainment or for that matter requested the reports & findings from other professional air arms on their path to selection to get the choice right.

        But as soon as you put down “Replacement” and put too much emphasis on that, your bound to get problems. The 135’s capabilities revolve around the best available to SAC & SAC only during that time. SAC was a very long time ago. The really strange thing is that the modern USAF although being hobnailed by asset requirements of SAC & the transfer of that fleet for the use of it’s tactical Fighter fleet seems to have the USAF completely devoid of the operational limitations of specifying a “Replacement” based on a 1950’s platform, meeting a specific need of a 1950’s – 1970’s Strategic Air Command & doctrine, and the litany of issues that entails for a good selection process taking on what a platform brings to the service. To me that seems like horrendously bad acquisition planning. With the competition being framed around “Replacement” the USAF is cutting it’s options off before letting a competition define standards. In this respect the GAO findings don’t support anything other than failure to specifically specify key requirements …

        What you specifically don’t want is specifications made off the operational use of an existing platform whoose use was conceptualised in different era for a different requirement for a different service with only itself to worry about.

      • Well Snippy (aka 123xyz), you could have saved other people’s bandwidth if you took the time to be a better reader.
        You snipped that phrase a little TOO closely. Let’s look at the whole relative portion of the phrasing (this time I’ll cap what you missed) : “this is a contract that THEY’VE VIEWED as already spent a good chunk of money pursuing and having won once only to have it ’stolen’ by political shenanigans”.

        We are talking about what NG’s actions will be. I believe they will “no bid” without changes. I hope they will “no bid” in such a case, because I am a shareholder.

        Interesting response though, It’s almost as if you actually believed the GAO ‘findings’ were not a political punt and are operating under the impression that they were bindiing: i.e. the AF/DoD could not have rejected them if they wanted to buck the political machinations. I’d help you overcome your superficial understanding of the pre-Final RFP history, the RFP, acquisition law and big boy politics, but with your lawyerly penchant for the tautological, I fear it would be tiresome to cover this old ground again…and again….and again.

        Say, you’re not one of those Boeing tanker faux-bloggers, are you?

      • And just to reinforce David’s point….
        Even before the last RFP process, the AF wasn’t exactly silent on the subject of how the operating ranges the AF was expecting to deal with in the future were Pacific vs European theater dominant.
        It was noted in many web comment threads, including here if I remember correctly, that the Boeing advocates argued that ‘replacement capability’ should be viewed as individual KC-135 comparable, while the KC-45 advocates argued the capability should be viewed as KC-135 FLEET comparability.
        I concur with the latter because as range increases, fuel offload/per tanker touch becomes more important than tanker touches per mission in determining numbers of tankers needed to support a campaign. Personally, and based upon LRS analyses I was performing as late as 2003, I believe the AF needs something larger than the 767-200 and smaller than the 777-200. The upper limit is determined by foward basing requirements (BTW: If the Pacific runways were ~3-5k ft longer on average, I’d could probably go for the 777-200).

      • I agree with David’s comments, an RFP not framed as a true “replacement” could result in a fleet not so closely associated with the 50’s era tanker’s original purpose and one more effective for the AF’s current operations. But, given the changing history of warfare would a tanker fleet more closely aligned with current operations be any wiser considering new tankers could be operational for the next 20-30 years? And, I’m curious what other options have been cut off when “replacement” is specified?

        We can imagine the AF LRS could run daily IEOR analysis to design the ideal fleet candidates, and they’d be still left with what industry supplies, unless, of course, they’re open to costly custom designs; even then, a 2003 analysis should be retired for an updated 2010 and future holistic version given the continual evolution of flying combat missions to include pilot-less aircraft.

        There isn’t a panacea tanker. We have to rely on the DoD and AF’s best analysis and requirements and the given process. In the end at least one of the three parties, DoD/AF/Taxpayers, NG/EADS or Boeing) will be unhappy. Hopefully it will not be the former.

    • As noted in my response to Snippy, I own NG stock. I own stock in most of the top ten or so defense companies, including Boeing. I don’t own as much of any of them, nor ANY other stocks anymore as I’m too close to retirement age, and I see a train wreck ahead. I’m hedging against the Great Obama Bust a’comin’ until some economic reality starts reappearing..

      I will make a prediction, though. If Boeing walks in and claims the ‘prize’ unchallenged, expect more of the same shenanigans they pulled to reappear in future contests. It’s what happens when you reinforce bad behavior.

  5. 123 – xyz, your comment about gazing into the crystal ball re future requirements are really quite that caveat – when your the USAF with a SAC fleet. Who specifically knows – that is not really the purpose of a competition. The purpose of competition is NOT just an emphasis on cost only (IMO this is a serious flaw with the current RFP) It is the asset enhancement that can be brought to the table through competition.

    In laymans terms Reality is that MOST people only have need for a 2 seater coupe, but MOST buy a 4 door. Although this is an extremely simplistic to the point of absurd in some aspects for the purposes of the competition it was that. If one wants a replacement of a first generation tanker, operated by a completely different air arm with a sole purpose, that essentially has shaped USAF aerial operations to the present day the reality of replacement under those terms is absurd – and would be to most people. Every other airforce in the world is P&D. Every Airforce with multi tasking & expeditionary requirements have recognised this in their acquisition programs.

    In such cases their need is driven by making their budget dollars go further. What this means is that in terms of practicality and operational use in terms of competition specific examples are able to be put in a commercial light. Lets use Australias (the RAAF’s) as simple case study.

    Australia lacked heavy lift. The best it had was 707’s/C-130’s. Afghanistan forced it to bite the bullet through enormous hire costs to buy the C-17’s. At the same time it’s refuelling tankers (707’s) drastically needed replacement. As such it is the lead customer on the A-330. EADS comes along and says essentially “The C-17 meets your ability to deploy RORO to austere airstrips, the 330 will in effect tripple your airlift capacity for re-supply & deployment in expeditionary warfare”. What the competition has effectively bought through being open where Australia’s airlift capacity will literally be trippled with little more than a stroke of a pen and a few extra million… In other words it wasn’t just tanking, it was a hypothesised need with real a real world need. Which SMSgt Mac touched on and btw was why EADS/Northrop won the previous competition.

    Again though to get back to your point about crystal ball gazing and it’s uncertainty. Both the U.K and Australia have very similar needs. The U.K needs to traverse extraordinarily long distances to meet basic obligations in relation to it’s own territorial holdings, let alone it’s expeditionary requirements. Australia is a Pacific / Indian Ocean Nation with expeditionary requirements. Both nations have a long history of conflict contribution under just such circumstances – and truth be known, all the major wars the US have fought are expeditionary.

    So why would anyone be prepared to argue on a platform based replacement. 135’s were the best available at the time for Boom refuelling of a huge fleet of bombers – specifically aimed at nuking the USSR – with a number of bases to help them undertake that role with a very specific mentality, attitude & simple requirement. This competition in asking for a replacement alone misses the entire spirit of competitive competition.

    It isn’t just that either. There are underlying sinister points to be made about the nature of this present RFP. The first relates to C-17 Production and the way heavy lift is framed by commercial interests for extra funding. The other is how the other product made by the same company really does not complement that in the slightest. Tankers are not airlifters in many respects, but if I were a businessman there are billions to be made in the way the present contract treats the issue of replacement vs capability as well as ongoing costs via through – life – support of a product as a side benefit.

    I would not want to come out as being bias any way or the other – but it specifically alarms me somewhat just how much this competition is slanted in favour of Boeing, The unashamed campaigning in Washington with the side lining of the issue at stake here. This platform is what you will be stuck with for 50 odd years. Most of us will be dead and it will still be in service. Northrop/EADS should be complaining because this competition does not make business sense, hence business case to develop a platform to fulfil a need other than replacement. The very thing that free market economy runs off. It is aimed at getting a tanker fast and the RFP is aimed at being so specific to prevent challenge. It’s tying the tenderer down to the nearest common specified denominator so nobody in the airforce gets their ass kicked again (i.e protest proofing).

    From my personal view, and I am in no way qualified to say so for the record The above is wide open to service rort in the future, – but I hope that alluding to several severe repercussions like C-17 Acquisition/through life support contracts. What I am qualified to say through Mechanical design engineering is this: By specifying too specifically (Ironically how the protest was upheld through not doing) your cutting your options back on industry solutions from a design perspective alone. I would be very suprised to hear anyone from the field say any different.

    If a customer came to me wanting a tanker I would expect that customer to say the following
    “I want a tanker to fly to there from here and I want it to be able to do X as a minimum” (what is termed as KPP). During development I would inform the customer of cost increases or alternate approaches. (Extras) – if the customer is willing to pay for them. The Extras is what drives industry to success. Boeing knows this back to front, it’s in the industry. It is in it’s vested interest to control the KPP and downplay Extras.

  6. I made several comments that could be mis interpreted in the above.
    1.) I am not saying that it is in a controlled plot but the benefits to Boeing are enormous in the way the contest is framed to be of sufficient concern.

    2.) Getting a contract too specific and expecting a blunt instrument like the GAO to interpret the realities of product development is devoid of reality to some degree – not all but some.

    3.) When mentioning every other air force uses P&D I acknowledge the necessity of the boom requirement for the USAF, but for the service to not even come around to the multiple redundancy of P&D is both strange and antiquated in a sence – and in that sence it leads me to beleive that the USAF has not consulted other air arms, including those of it’s own nation, how it’s requirement can benefit those of it’s own nation, or borrow components from other nations when it comes to competitive selection.

  7. I also omitted when I mentioned the C-17 buy occured AFAIK after the A330 had been selected – but the comment about the business case for it’s airlift capacity for a nation drastically lacking it was very appealing.

  8. RE: “a 2003 analysis should be retired for an updated 2010 and future holistic version given the continual evolution of flying combat missions to include pilot-less aircraft”.

    Nothing material has changed as far as model inputs since my 2003 tanker/range analyses of FUTURE operational scenarios. The Earth’s land masses are not noticably farther apart or closer, the usual suspect potential foes are pretty much unchanged. The basing options are what they are. Only the aimpoint list is getting bigger and harder. Magic airplanes (including UAVs) are not appearing any faster than predicted, and projected near-term propulsion advances were already on the horizon in ’03.

    • It has been most interesting re-visiting the site (and yours Mac) since the last contract award went up for protest. The saga hurts just thinking about it – last reading through my last post it occurred just how much had yet to be elaborated on in regards to running a competition to minimise the pork barrelling occurring in other funding & the very compelling business case this presents towards Boeing to frame a particular line through it’s representatives on the hill. This is pretty serious stuff that needs to get some attention.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.