New delay likely in tanker competition

We have been told by two sources, including one that is very close to the competition, that the Air Force is likely to announce a new delay soon in evaluation and award of a contract in the long-running KC-X tanker competition.

One source says the delay will be until the first quarter; the other didn’t have a new timeline but said the USAF was preparing to notify the competitors any time now.

We have written on several occasions, including a week ago, that another delay was likely. The USAF has already delayed the current competition, the third, from August and November to December and hinted a week ago another one was coming.

Boeing and EADS are the remaining bidders for the contract after the Government Accountability Office threw out a protest from US Aerospace, which was late submitting its bid.

The Air Force is evaluating the Boeing and EADS bids, and we’ve been told that the evaluation is proceeding more slowly than anticipated. The USAF issues what are called Evaluation Notices, or ENs, to the companies when it seeks additional information. This process is going slowly, we’re told.

There is also a point in which Boeing and EADS will be asked to submit Final Proposal Revisions, or FPRs (pronounced “fippers”), that amount to the best-and-final submissions. As of early this week, the FPR date had not been provided to the two companies.

The slip to after the first of the year has unintended political implications. Pundits are certain the Republicans will win control of the House of Representatives, which means US Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Boeing/WA), Boeing’s biggest booster in the House, will lose his chairmanship of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee that will be the first stop for funding the tanker award. Dicks has long vowed to block any funding should EADS win the contract. Conventional wisdom, though generally overstated, is that EADS is closer to Republicans and Boeing is closer to Democrats in the tanker fight. In fact, there are members of both parties who are supporters of both companies.

In Washington State’s tight Senate race, incumbent Patty Murray (D-Boeing) is in a tight race over Republican Dino Rossi. Murray generally leads Rossi in polling by 2-4 points, within the margin of error, with a few polls giving her a six point lead, beyond the margin of error. Rossi, if elected, will still support Boeing, but Murray is now the #4 ranking Democrat in the Senate, which is expected to remain in Democratic hands. She will be in the better position and have the clout to work harder to block funding for EADS than would the freshman Rossi, particularly as a member of the minority.

There is no clear-cut beneficiary to a new delay. But there remains a clear-cut loser, and that’s the Air Force which is faced with continued reliance on 50-year old Boeing KC-135s.

15 Comments on “New delay likely in tanker competition

  1. As you said Scott, the Air Force relies on those “50 year old Boeing KC-135s” as do many air forces of the world. That fact alone, speak volumes to the U.S. Air Force.

    If the Republicans take over the House, as many of us expect, won’t Kansas representative Tiahrt become the one of the most powerful voices in this tanker debate? I fully expect him to be as influential as Dicks is/was.

  2. Unless I really haven’t figured out Google, it appears he’s running again for the House seat he currently holds. Am I missing something?

  3. In the soviet of washington state- Patty and Inslee are both claiming to ‘ have saved ” Boeing jobs from going to the french due to WTO issues Neither has read the RFP

  4. I am not hopeful that the USAF can gather enough political momentum to make an uncontested decision on KC-X. Don’t forget, SECDEF Gates will retire early next year [to Washington state, if rumors serve], and appointment and confirmation of his successor will be a lively, newsworthy drama. And the 112th Congress I expect to be replete with the same preening, posturing and bombast that has marked the last dozen or so, and defense spending of the character required by the KC-X RFP may be impossible. Look to Clinton’s second term for a model.

  5. It’s time to have some leadership from Obama and split the contract. This squabbling has gone on long enough.

    • the GOP ( actually the interested persons behind ) will try to sabotage
      any decission/movement Obama or the Democrats could make.
      Just to prove that those uncouth others “just can’t jump”,
      Longterm consequences be dammed.

  6. It’s all about 100,000 US jobs and 2 production lines. Make it a competitive bid with the best producer on time and on budget getting the better share of future orders. There’s nothing like competition to be efficient. The winner would be USAF with much needed planes on the way at the earliest time. A split could save years of future appeals and politics and may be the only way to keep Boeings 767 plant in operation as EADS has the best plane. No one loses from the split and the WARFIGHTER wins.

    • It is the TAXPAYER that will loose from the split since we will be paying more for two not so dissimilar products due to smaller economies of scale in their manufacture,
      2 sets of crews, 2 sets of parts inventories etc. etc.
      Let the best plane win and that should be the end of it.

    • How can you say that EADS has the best plane when they haven’t even built one that they plan to sell to the USAF. It is an unproven derivative of an aircraft they have yet to build. That makes it extremely high risk. Is this the kind of risk you are willing to hand off to our men in uniform???

      The taxpayers will certainly also lose big $$$ from the EADS plane as it will cost more in the overall, as it will can not go into all of the bases are currently as it is too big, there will have to be new buildings built at Air Force bases because nothing can house it, and larger aprons (where Aircraft sit near runways) will have to built. All of this is not being considered into the purchase of the larger EADS plane.

      We should think about the real cost of doing business with EADS not just the up front ones.

      • risk?
        Lets compare the participants:

        EADS build the A310 MRTT tanker conversions without any hassle ( at least nothing that could be dragged into public view ). ARBS developement seems to have never deviated from planned progress or run into untoward hitches.
        The AUS tanker is delayed by one year mostly due to customer originating changes. The KC45 airframe is derived from a combined 2engine/4engine family with exceptionally high comonality. IMHO EADS has shown that they can populate a new area of competence in a planable way
        leading to exceptional products.

        Boeing, though the self proclaimed best of breed in the tanker business, has had protracted technical issues with both recent showcases ( ITA and JAP ) bringing together preexisting components and an old airframe. Taking additional reference from current Boeing civil developement nothing indicates that a third try towards an even more complex tanker craft will run into less hassle.

        Just going by risk the tanker would have to go to EADS imho.

  7. TPop : It is an unproven derivative of an aircraft they have yet to build.
    The taxpayers will certainly also lose big $$$ from the EADS plane as it will cost more in the overall, as it will can not go into all of the bases are currently as it is too big,

    I’m sure we don’t want to go down this route again, but to put it briefly, EADS will be using the same aircraft as the Australian tanker design but with defensive aids subsystems and cockpit armour), which has been certified to enter service (although this is not required for the USAF, its a good indicator).
    The Boeing design has several components from different aircraft (including new cockpit), a new boom design (the one on the japanese 767 does not meet USAF requirements, and mating a wing and fueselage from different models. Meanwhile, the Italian air force are still waiting for their 767 tanker (after 5 years), due to problems with the wing mounted hose and drogue (which is needed on the USAF aircraft).

    Still the lower risk design right?

  8. Interesting comments from all. Pros and Cons for both aircraft and manufacturers. The true failure appears to be in the acquisitions process. I know this sounds obvious, but the issues with the tanker, a second (unwanted by the CAF customer) engine for the F-35, require leadership to fix. The budget cuts that WILL be come quickly to all of DoD as the wars come to an end will be felt in manpower and weapons systems. We need to figure this out fast or our national treasure will be wasted fumbling through a process that will require us to make tough budget cuts elsewhere. My 2 cents.

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