Northrop may decide on KC-X this week or next

Northrop Grumman may decide this week or next what it will do about the bid for the USAF KC-X Final Request for Proposal, understands.

Northrop has said frequently and clearly that it may not bid because it believes the FRFP is skewed toward Boeing’s KC-767, and we are satisfied this is no idle threat. But we also believe that while the odds, as things stand today, are that Northrop won’t bid, don’t consider this a sure thing.

We have reason to believe that there are still strong factions within the Northrop-EADS teams who support going forward with a bid.

There are equally strong factions who believe that a protest to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that the RFP is unfair.

GAO procedure provides that a bidder has 10 days from its determination that there are valid reasons to protest the RFP to file the protest. A protest may also be filed with the issuing agency but this is largely considered futile to protest to the agency that issued an RFP that is believed to be faulty.

While to focus has been on Northrop, Boeing is disappointed the Air Force did not take into account the WTO interim report finding Airbus illegally benefied from subsidies for the A330, on which the Northrop KC-30 is based. A Boeing protest is considered unlikely.

19 Comments on “Northrop may decide on KC-X this week or next

  1. I think NG is well aware of which parts of the solicitation could be charged.

    From page 8 to 11 various questions were answered by Air Force according cost estimations.

    – “average of 8.33 landings per sortie” is questioned

    – “Please explain why touch and go’s (or any other attribute of the mission – time, airspeed, altitude, etc.) do not have a direct bearing on the fuel burn rate of the offeror’s aircraft.”

    – “Without such adjustments, more capable, larger aircraft offerings are being penalized from a total fuel burn cost perspective.”

    – “The effectiveness of a given offering should be considered to normalize the MILCON cost […]”

  2. The fRFP is completely ineffective in it’s stated goal of modernising the refueling fleet.

    I’ve not heard of any requirement that could not be met by the KC-135 with a minor electronics upgrade.

  3. This is becoming so tedious and boring and repetitive and controversial and rank with accuracies and inaccuracies as well as information and disinformation, that it will be a relief when a selection is made and, hopefully, we don’t have to hear anything about protests, complaints, Congress or any other aspect of this decision.

    ten years is enough…get rid of the expense of the lobbyists…get the Congressmen and Senators on to more important things…get some needed Tankers up and flying

    Enough is enough!!

  4. I am not exactly sure as to what the NG/EADS game is here. They have made threats for a while now, not to bit. This is an interesting tactic by both companies. But we are coming to a decision time. Obviously they didn’t get the revision they wanted and with no prospect of a split buy, so it seems, there are two ways of ending this: either put in a bit which would really squeeze Boeing margins on this deal, particularly because more of the risk is put on the vendor or exit the competition. I think they won’t do the latter in view of future military contracts, for which both NG and EADS would want to compete. So to me, the likely scenario seems to be the former.

  5. It’s not given that modern equates to bigger. You don’t replace 5 ton trucks with 10 ton trucks for the same mission. USAF already has the 10 ton truck – KC-10.

    • USAF has 59 10 ton fuel trucks and about 500 5 ton fuel trucks.

      During the latest wars nearly all 10 ton trucks were used. About 20 were “misused” to deliver freight only.

      Is USAF still in the 5 ton business like 50 years ago?

    • Nobody here is saying that bigger is better – but if your stated goal is to modernise a fleet it ridiculus to write an RFP that could be filled (and probably won based on the 1% cost gate) by the 50y/o plane that’s meant to be superseded.

      It is shaming to see that the USAF cannot get it’s act together to write a comprehensive requirements document based on future force structure, doctorine and likely missions instead of the the current state of affairs using 50y/o aircraft.

      And I’ll say this, the A330 MRTT is a more modern option and a better refuel aircraft. That does not mean the AF must buy it – but if they don’t, just be honest and say you’re sole-sourcing this to Boeing and be done with it.

  6. The deal with the A330 is you get a better multirole tanker at about the same price as the 767. There’s no reason to choose the 767 on a best value basis: the extra capability is surely useful but hardly costs any more.

    I’m sure the Air Force just wants to get this sorted out. A competition judged solely on price is straightforward and not so susceptibe to challenge. If one of the competitors volontarily pulls out at the start that’s better than taking part and issuing a challenge later.

    I think the award is likely to go to Boeing as the sole bidder. The Air Force gets a less good plane at a price higher than it needs to be. But the plane is good enough and the price is acceptable.

  7. Ikkeman is comletely correct that a slightly modified -135 (plus new boom?), or similar plane like the 757, can do the tanking job in the RFP. This is one of the dirty little secrets of this whole affair – that operationally -135s rarely off-load the fuel they are carrying, so huge increases in tanker fuel capacity are not needed. It is high numbers of booms and probe/drogue systems in the air that has traditionally mattered, and may be matter even more once the military fields large numbers of UCAVs. In other words, there NEVER NEVER WAS A LEGITIMATE WAR FIGHTER NEED FOR THE LARGER PLANES NOW COMPETING FOR THE CONTRACT.

    So, the question is, how did the USAF get into a postion where the only competitors are offering planes with with fuel capacities it does not need? I think the answer is the much dirtier, much bigger other secret: Each competitor and its ardent regional constituents and stakeholders engineered the competiton so that the AF would buy planes they wanted to build, and make very big profits on, not a smaller plane.

    Thus, once the War of the Two Nether Regions was joined, the USAF was stuck with the two excessively large competitors, and the chance of getting anything smaller evaporated. This is why the 757 disappeared mysteriously as an option (Scott has blogged about this). It is also why the smartest choice of all, which Ikkeman hints at, was never on the table; that is, developing a comprehensive multi-decade plan, starting whenever was needed, to keep the -135s going forever. In addition to the obvious, this plan could have included new GenX type engines designed specifically for the -135. Engine makers would have lined up to bid for the hundreds of engines needed over the years to re-engine the huge -135 fleet. A similar program could have been developed for the KC-10. Properly funded with a small fraction of the money spent so far on the two Frankentankers, we would have gotten great, adequate, modern planes at a reasonsable price. Sadly, instead of this sane approach, the inmates have taken over the asylum.

    More later – must go.

  8. I do not know how all the factors get sorted out in this past ten year sordid affair.

    There are arguments for both the 5 and 10 ton “trucks” and each has its own apparent logic.

    Have not all of these factors been discussed ad nuseum. Now, the suggested best approach is to design an althogether new plane.

    For whatever reason, politics, industrial base, etc., the USAF has listed its requirements in the present RFP which was endorsed by Secretary Gates and is now up for bid.

    Ten years of bidding, arguing, protesting , appealing has brought us to this point. It seems just masochistic to go much further.

  9. Clarification: The acqusition process and the interaction between the military and industry does not always result in the “wisest” choice. It results in a choice that has gone through a process that involves many determinents…some of which do not satisfy the desired perfect criteria.

    Politics and Industry and Lobbyists weigh in very heavily and possible international sales contribute too. It is all of these factors that finally result in a “choice”. It may not be the ideal way to get things done but it presently is the way that the USAF makes its choice.

    My point is that perhaps the 757 would have been a better plane, but we will never know because it failed to get through the process and did not make it through the gauntlet that has been operating in the US for the last ten years.

    The process is a result of all these countervailing pressures and , somehow or other, a choice emerges that satisfies the largest number of influence bidders. It is just the way this world works….and it may even be unattractive and inefficient. Most of us will never know

  10. I agree with ikkeman, the RFP essentially asks for a KC-135NG. This means that a narrow body with a KC-135-sized wing would do the trick.

    Funny enough NG/EADS could offer a narrow body aircraft almost identical in size to the KC-135, although the optimal length could be 47-49 m (similar in length to the 767-200).

    Solution: Enter the KC-A421M!

    Combine a strengthened A321 fuselage (minus the centre fuselage section-15 and the empennage section-19 plus horizontal and vertical stabilizers), with the entire wing and engines from the A400M plus a NEW 6-7 frame larger centre fuselage section-15 (built in Mobile), a new empennage section combined with the vertical tailplane (slightly modified at the base) and the horizontal tailplane from the A400M. Also, the existing 6-wheel main landing gear from the A400 should be used, but housed in new “pods” such as the ones described in this paper (page 5 and 6):

    Quote: “Relatively thins cowls of landing gear distributed along the fuselage can probably serve stabilizing aerodynamic ridges (fig. 7,b) and opened folds of landing gear (fig. 7,c) as air brakes when landing. The presence of baggage and cargo access hatch located in the bow (stem) of the fuselage in the high wing monoplane design
    (fig. 7,a) provides higher flexibility of cargo and passenger transportation both owing to most containers (almost twice as many) placed in the cargo compartment (fig. 9,a) as compared with the “standard body”, and possibility of placing non standard long length cargo.”

    To do list for NG/EADS/Europrop:

    1) Europrop opens a final assembly line in the US for the TP400-D6 turboprop engine, and outsources work to US tier-2 manufacturers through license built production in order to ensure that the engine has at least 51 percent American content in terms of work share value.

    2) Airbus Military and/or NG build(s) a manufacturing facility for the new centre section-15 in Mobile.

    3) A321 sections 11/12 (without door number 8) are shipped to Mobile “empty” and are outfitted in a new facility with a slightly modified A400M cockpit, the Remote Aerial Refueling Operator (RARO) console and additionally required militarized systems.

    4) Airbus Military develops a new A321 compatible composite empennage on which the slightly modified A400M vertical tailplane will be mounted.

    5) Airbus Military and/or Northrop develop(s) the new main landing gear pods.

    6) Airbus Military modifies the refuelling system on the A400M’ wings in order for the Cobham 905E aerial refuelling pods (housed on the multi-role attachment points on the wings) to provide for a fuel flow rate of 1800 kg/min (~ 420 gallons/min) instead of the existing capability of 1200 kg/min.

    7) Airbus Military performs the modifications in the A321 fuselage section-18 for integration of both the centerline hose-and-drogue fuselage refueling unit and the EADS Aerial Refueling Boom System (ARBS).

    8) Airbus Military installs 14 ACT tanks (each holding 2992 liters of fuel) on the lower deck of the KC-A421. In fact, this is very similar to the configuration to the KC-135 fuselage fuel tanks. As there is extra lower deck cargo volume available due to the lack of wing-carry-through structure and “intruding” landing gear bays, there’s room for more than 14 ACT tanks.


    Length (m)———.41———-47———–48.5———45.
    Wing area (m2)—226——-221.5——-283.3——–221.5
    MTOW (tones)-146———-141——–.>181.5——-141
    Op. Empty. Wt—44.6———50*———.>83——–>60.5
    Max Fuel Cap—-90.7———90**——–.>91.6——-50.5
    Cruise Speed—530***——484———-530****—–484”

    All structure and fuel weights are in metric tones

    * Estimated OEW
    ** Estimated
    *** 530 mph at 30,000 feet
    **** 530 mph at 35000 feet
    (“) 484 mph at 29000 feet
    (#) metric tones

    This conceptual KC-A421 would best fit the RFP requirements which is asking for a KC-135NG and not a larger and much heavier multi role aircraft such as the KC-767 with a lot of “wasted” structure and material. What USAF seems to want (at least from what they are specifying in the RFP), is a flying fuel tank with wings (i.e. narrow-body plus wings).

    The OEW of this conceptual KC-A421 tanker is 30 tones less than the KC-767 due in part to the much lighter narrow-body fuselage and the smaller and much lighter composite wing.

    The A400M cruises as high as turbofan airlifters above turbulent cloud and at comparable cruise speeds, but has in addition the tactical advantages of a turboprop aircraft. The A400M is optimised to provide the best cruise performance without compromising its tactical abilities, achieving cruising speeds of up to Mach 0.72 at 37,000 ft. As can be seen in the System Requirements Document (SRD) for the KC-X, a KC-A421 should easily satisfy aerial refueling requirements, in fact, it will be able to refuel ALL fixed wing aircraft as well as the V-22 and most rotary wing aircraft.

    It’s stated that the KC-X aircraft “shall not exceed maximum takeoff gross weight, for 10,000 foot runway (critical field length), takeoff fuel allowance from brake release of 2.5 minutes at maximum continuous thrust, climb at 250 knots indicated airspeed (KIAS) to 10,000 ft, then at recommended climb speed above 10,000 ft, cruise at flight level (FL) 250 at best range speed to planned loiter point, perform loiter orbit for 1 hour and offload fuel during loiter at 275 KIAS at 25,000 ft, transferring fuel at 900 gal/minute (NB: NEW Requirement of 1200 gal/minute), return to base of origin at FL250 at best range speed, perform penetration and landing (15 minutes) (no time/fuel/distance credit for descent to initial approach fix), and land with reserve fuel sufficient for 2 hours at best range speed at optimum altitude(s) (fuel burn to climb to this condition need not be considered).

    Clearly, USAF has given up on one of the original refueling missions of the KC-135, which was high-altitude/high-speed refueling – something neither the KC-767 and the KC-30 are capable of.

    A KC-A421 aircraft would have a higher fuel offload (versus unrefueled radius range) than both the KC-135 and KC-767, and would thus beat the latter aircraft not only in the IFARA score, but also in MILCON and absolute fuel burn costs.

    A KC-A421 would use wings, engines, vertical and horizontal tailplane and the main landing gear of the A400M; components already paid for by the A400M programme. (European taxpayers), and A321 components for which the R&D (RLI) has since been repaid.

    The added R&D and infrastructure expenses for a KC-A421 would, of course, be charged to the US government, but since the production costs would be significantly lower than the production costs of both the KC-767 and the KC-30, NG/EADS would be able to offer the aircraft at a lower price than what Boeing can possibly offer the KC-767 while still making a profit.

    Finally, by offering an A400M derivative aircraft to the USAF in the KC-X RFP, EADS will be able to sneak the A400M into the US by the back door.

    • Boeing tried a “Frankentanker” last time around – The USAF wants a low cost, of the shelf system.

      • Frankentanker: “Cocktail” of old components.
        KC-A421: “Cocktail” of old and NEW components. 😉

        The US Air Force are telling the offerors that they want a KC-135NG, which is not off-the-shelf. There’s no reason that NG/EADS can’t tell their customer that while they aren’t able to offer a competitively priced off-the-shelf tanker, instead they will be able to offer a competitively priced custom built tanker which will be re-using existing aerostructutures and avionics (ets) to the maximum extent possible (which btw, is an Airbus tradition), in order to minimize the development costs. A win-win scenario for both the offerer and the customer.

        The KC-X procurement is a massive investment by the US government. There’s no reason for the customer to “demand” an off-the-shelf frame if the better long term value is a custom built frame with a superior operating economics.

      • BTW, the RAND AoA report from 2006 does not agree that a special purpose design is a better option for this mission.

      • As you know, two years ago, the US Air Force announced the selection of
        Northrop Grumman as the winner of the KC-X competition for development and procurement of up to 179 tanker aircraft for approximately USD 35 billion (not including the projected life cycle cost of the new tankers which has been estimated to be some USD 200 billion).

        According to PricewaterhouseCoopers; “Airbus Military estimates the
        revised total program cost at 30.43 billion euros, representing an
        estimated overall loss for Airbus Military SL on the programme of 11.24
        billion euros.”

        Those 30.43 billion euros is the revised total cost figure not only for
        all of the research and development that’s been required to develop a
        totally new airframe as well as new engines (some of which is yet to be
        undertaken), AND 180 airframes AND 720 engines (+ spares).

        The current exchange rate of 1,35 dollar to the euro is close to the
        weighted average of the last 27 quarters (since the launch of the A400M
        programme), so in USD the total cost for the A400M programme including 30 percent (+) of cost overruns, and including the delivery of 180 A400M frames + engines, is ONLY about 20 percent more expensive than the KC-X procurement which intends to use off-the shelf LCAs.

        So, ….

        179 KC-X at USD 35 billion, or USD 196 million per frame
        Coctail = USD 3 billion to develop; or USD 17 million per frame in R&D cost. Production costs for the narrowbody KC-A421 should be in the neighbourhood of 17 million less per frame than the KC-30 (excluding engines and all of the military systems).

        Now, a KC-A421 would easily better the KC-767 in the IFARA adjustment (more fuel off load capabillity), in the MILCON adjustment (about the same wingspan as the KC-135 and considerably less than the KC-767; much better ACN/PCN values), and last but not the least, it would have significantly less fuel burn per mission (25 percent +), due in part to the better efficiencies of the turboprop engines and the lower OEW etc.

        Therefore, coctail + lower acquisition cost per frame + superior IFARA, MILCON and fuel burn cost < 99 % of the other offeror.

        Please do note that Rand’s 2006 Analysis of Alternative’s (AOA) concluded that purchasing new, commercial off-the-shelf aircraft to recapitalize DOD’s tanker fleet is the least expensive option for recapitalizing the KC-135 fleet from a life-cycle cost perspective. It's the total life-cycle costs, therefore, which is the important metric, and not the initial acquisition costs. Since a fleet of KC-A421s would use "off-the-shelf" TP400-D6 turboprop engines and systems and components commonly found on the A321 and A400M, the total life-cycle costs would much lower than a custom built tanker with little, or no commonality with other platforms.

  11. NB: The Operating Empty Weight (OEW) of the A400M was initially projected to be 66500 kg, and not 60500 kg as stated above.


    Also, in stead of the first smiley, it should read: A321 sections 11/12 (without door number EIGHT) could be shipped to Mobile “empty”.

    The Remote Aerial Refueling Operator (RARO) console would interfere with door 8, so it’s removed.

    and are outfitted in a new facility with a slightly modified A400M cockpit, the Remote Aerial Refueling Operator (RARO) console and additionally required militarized systems

  12. This is really quite fantastic….several commerntators suggest we use a derivative of the A400 and in doing so, bail out the Europeans from this costly endeavor.

    Ten years of evolving nonsense and now the volume gets shriller and more bizarre as the time period for a decision gets closer.

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