USAF, EADS need to come forward with full details

The USAF and EADS need to come forward with full details to fully explain the latest cock-up (a British term, not an obscene one) in which the Air Force mistakenly sent EADS and Boeing proprietary information about the other company’s KC-X submission.

EADS, the Air Force and Boeing say that when EADS and Boeing discovered the error, the companies began a procedure that has been in place for years to seal up the files and computers and to notify the USAF of the error. The Air Force initially said, in essence, “no harm, no foul.” But then in classic Wikileaks fashion, information dribbled out bit-by-bit that there was more to the story than the Air Force–and EADS–let on.

At a press conference–which we were at–EADS North America CEO Sean O’Keefe gave a detailed response to questions about the matter. But within days, it was charged by Lexington Institute’s Loren Thompson that EADS had actually opened the proprietary file but Boeing had not. He did not cite sources for his information, and his close ties to Boeing immediately raised the suspicion that Boeing leaked this information to him.

Whether Boeing leaked the information or Thompson, who has well-placed sources in the Pentagon, got it from DOD remains a mystery. But having reported the information, reporters later confirmed it, leaving the impression with many of us (ourselves included) that EADS and the USAF had not been entirely forthcoming.

We accept O’Keefe’s responses at the press conference that there was nothing nefarious going on at EADS. We also accept his statements, in response to our own question there, that these mistakes, while rare, are not uncommon in government. Remember that before becoming CEO of EADS North America, O’Keefe was the NASA Administrator and previously had served as Secretary of the Navy. O’Keefe explained at the press conference that procedures exist to deal with this contingency, and he was confident that EADS, the Air Force and he presumed Boeing all followed the procedures explicitly.

But in light of subsequent Wikileak-style of dribbles, this isn’t enough, especially for this competition, which has been marred by improprieties and mismanagement since the original tanker contract was awarded to Boeing in 2002.

The Air Force and EADS need to issue a point-by-point timeline of what happened and when–sort of a fallback to the famous Watergate refrain of “What did the President know and when did he know it?” The parties also have to detail the corrective steps taken in the wake of the events. Only then will the air be cleared.

This event has given Boeing yet another reason to posture about improprieties and protests, as if it needed another one. But we think Boeing has some ‘splainin’ to do, too. Just as the Air Force and EADS should issue a detailed timeline of “what did they know and when did they know it,” Boeing should as well to prove its hands are as squeaky-clean as it claims. Among the things to discuss: Did Boeing tip off Thompson? If so, was this in violation of some confidential communication between the Air Force, EADS and Boeing?

The entire mess is yet another example of how the Air Force can’t seem to “get it right.” Whether this is truly a “no harm, no foul” event as claimed by the Air Force remains to be seen. More disclosure, by all three parties, is necessary. But clearly the burden here is on the USAF and EADS.

15 Comments on “USAF, EADS need to come forward with full details

  1. None of these OEMs or the USAF will admit to the timeline you called for. Even if they did, it would further cloud the issue, not clear it up.

    Time to just cancel the KC-X program altogether, and reengine the KC-135E.

    • No, I think it’s quicker just to put the information from both files in the public domain… then let them proceed from there.

  2. Perhaps, but I think the real reason the USAF does not want to do that is either because some (or all) of the information is classified, or some (or all) of it is propritory, or both.

    I just think we will ever get the full and true story from the USAF.

  3. This is getting to be a real cluster-*#*# but I can’t help shaking my head at some of the suggestions that keep coming out. For example, “re-engine the KC-135”. Yeah, that would really make the USAF look good. Claim for over 10 years they need a new aircraft and then go back and say, oh the 50 plus year old ones should be good for another 50 years, if we get new engines for them. Or another favourite of mine is, “just sole source it to Boeing”. Been there, tried that. Not to mention, that once they started the competition route, the USAF and the US Government are going to look extremely bad if they suddenly announced, “Gee, we decided a competiton is not the way to go after all”.

    Split buy? Politically too hot to handle and nobody, including the 2 competitors, seems to want it. (Yet?!)

    One thing I am surprised at, is the lack of complaints about the Government. I mean, the USAF had control of this competition taken out of their hands because they were deemed to be bad, irresponsible children who could not be trusted to get it done right. Why is everybody blamign the USAF when something goes wrong, if they no longer have control?

    One thing is for sure, if EADS and whoever is in control of this competition does not soon explain, in detail, what has happened the last couple of weeks, this thing is going to boomerang on the both of them pretty bad.

    I would like to know more about Mr. Thompson’s role in this saga as well. Back in 2008, he was the USAF and Northrop Grumman’s holy choir. His tune sure has changed since then, hasn’t it!?

    • Aero Ninja, The USAF has said all along the KC-135E is good to 36,000 hours and the KC-135R to 39,000 hours. Both have about 20,000 hours or so, some more than that, some less. The USAF has said they will keep the KC-135R until at least 2040, so reengining/updating the KC-135E will get you at least 30 more years of service at 25%, or less the cost of the KC-X.

      The USAF plans to fly the B-52H until 2040, as well as the E-3B/C and E-8C, too.

      Hmmm, what do all these different aircraft have in common? They were all made by Boeing.

      What has EADS military done? Well they have flown the 4 A-400 flight test aircraft for something like 1200 hours in a year. They have also flown, and are still flying the first A-330MRTT customer’s KC-30As in flight testing. Testing that has been going on for almost 4 years now.

      I won’t even get into the contract dispute with the A-400. That discussion is for a different day.

      Mr. Thompson is going to support the guy who writes his paycheck. So what? Sean O’Keefe does the same thing, and he already knew what his company had done before he had that news conference.

  4. With all that carefull “pre”-paration evident from Boeing
    could Boeing have leaned on a friend in USAF circles
    to kick off this slight irregularity to start with?

    Thompsons article doesn’t read like this was ripped from
    his typewriter in haste.

  5. Aero Ninja, the KC-135A to KC-135R conversions costs about $30 million per tanker, averaged over the entire 415 airplanes that were updated. The KC-135E to KC-135R conversion would be similar in terms of systems upgrades and engines. But, sice we are now about 10 years since the last KC-135R was modified, the costs would be about $50 million per airplane to reopen that production line. The reengined KC-135 would not need infastructure, or additional training and spares costs if we use the same F-108-100 (CFM-56-2B) engines. The cost for just the new KC-767NG or A-330MRTT is estimated to be around $150 million to $200 million per airplane ($35.8B at $200M each for 179 tankers, or about $26.85B at $150M each, none of that includes training, maintenance, fuel, spares, or infastructure).

    The USAF could also throw the KC-135E reengine program into the current one for the E-8C, using the JT-8D-219 engines, at a slightly lower cost than the CFM-56-2B program. At some $50M per reengined KC-135E, for 108 airplanes, that is about $5.4B.

    So for approximately one seventh the cost of new build tankers (for the $35B cost), we can have one that will be combat ready faster, and last for at least 30 more years.

    • I repeat, what are you going to do about the corrosion and structural fatigue problems, that even the USAF admits is a big problem, on these wonderfully re-engined aircraft?
      I suppose you can just cheaply re-skin them after replacing all the frames and stringers for a fraction of the cost of a newer aircraft?

      • Corrosion is not a problem unique to the KC-135. All airplanes have it, or will have it. Corrosion is a controlable maintenance problem the USAF has been dealing with since the days of the USAAC. The #1 corrosion issue the USAF has talked about on the KC-135E is in the engine struts, which would be replaced in any reengining program. Yes, KC-135s and other airplanes do get corrosion in wings, fuselarge areas and just about any place else. Sometimes the repair requires reskin of that area on that perticular airframe. Do you think any new build tanker would be immune to corrosion? It won’t be.

  6. I might add that since the info in the links you have provided (2002, 2003, and 2004) the KC-135 fleet has had significant repairs made to areas of corrosion, and the time each KC-135 spends in the depots now is lower than many new airplanes in the inventory. The longest any KC-135 spent in a depot was about 400 days, and that was an “E” model back in 2002/2003. Today, the KC-135s spend an average of 45-60 days in depots, assuming there are not modification kits being installed. In contrast a C-17 spends 52-65 days.

    So much of the corrosion issues on the KC-135s have already been addressed, and paid for.

    • KC-135 corrosion issues and other MX tasks are a constant (and large)
      financial drain. ( and even (re)building from new materials would only
      comprise a partial fix. )
      Material sciences and construction details have come forward in
      large strides in the decades gone by.
      A current A330 has about similar MX costs and intervals as the revolutionary
      Dreamliner is advertised to have. No idea how one would position the 767 in
      this, probably a bit or two behind the Airbus offer due to its age and having
      dropped out of the upgrade path for vigorously produced types.

  7. Allowing EAD’S to make this tanker would be a big mistake. I was a crew chief on the KC-135 and the older KC-97 refueling tankers and they were the best ever made. Congress should not provide funding for the airbus ???? Tanker. Would’nt it be wiser to just keep the present modified KC-135 tanker’s ? It would be one heck of lot better tanker than what EAD’S has to offer.

    M/Sgt USAF Retired
    N.A. Wilkie

  8. Hey AeroNinja Get your facts straight. The Government gave the tanker award program back to the Air Force months ago. The incompetence is wholly the Air Forces!!

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