Countdown on KC-X tanker award

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EADS CEO Louis Gallois went public today in Europe with his prediction that the USAF will award a tanker contract next month. The best and final bid will be submitted this month.

We previously noted that the final bids were due this month and a contract award expected next month.

Meanwhile, here is an interesting story on the tanker from KING5 TV in Seattle, with this piece.

As readers know, the competition is a price shoot-out. As the KING story notes, Boeing continues to be worried about the benefit EADS has from subsidies found to be illegal by the WTO on the ability to under-price Boeing, but as we noted in this post last year, WTO may not have the effect Boeing fears; the withdrawal of Northrop Grumman as a partner to EADS has a much larger benefit to EADS’ ability to price the airplane.

Here are a couple of other key elements to ponder.

  • This 16-page report from an outfit with no connection to EADS or Boeing (which we originally linked in October) reminds us all of key considerations for the tanker.
  • Life-cycle costs are a key consideration for the KC-X, and Boeing has done a good job of messaging in its contention that the KC-767 has lower life-cycle costs than the EADS KC-45. Boeing produced two studies (in 2008 and in 2010) from third parties supporting its talking point. Only last October did EADS finally responded with its own, internal analysis that, it claimed, looked at operational mission cost vs Boeing’s analysis of US Department of Transportation reporting of fuel usage for commercial 767-200ERs and A330-200s. EADS conceded that on flight training, the KC-767 has the advantage but on fuel delivery, it contends the KC-45 wins the analysis.
  • What has not gotten a lot of attention are critical elements to the EADS analysis that mirror war-gaming scenarios in the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), and this is the anti-access/access-denied (A2/AD in DOD parlance) efforts by China in any Pacific conflict. A2/AD assumes forward bases will not be available and tankers will have to retreat to Guam and Australian. (Even Guam could be problematic in an A2/AD scenario.) This means tankers have to have more fuel to carry themselves to a forward support area, and that tankage capability also needs to be greater to refuel airplanes. This gives the KC-45 an advantage over the KC-767. This also was, in fact, an element in the 2008 win by Northrop over Boeing that did not get much attention. Don’t underestimate this importance in this competition.
  • Also part of the life-cycle consideration is future supply chain availability. The KC-X is a 40-year airplane; the airlines have pretty much ceased buying the commercial 767 while the A330 continues to sell very well. The USAF can rely on airlines for support in the future as back-up to its own maintenance and parts, and the supply chain itself is a consideration. Just as the supply chain support for the KC-135 shrinks with each passing year, so will it more quickly for the KC-767 than for the KC-45.

These are just some of the factors that haven’t gotten a lot of headlines that should not be overlooked when the contract is awarded.

12 Comments on “Countdown on KC-X tanker award

  1. OK, on topic: What I’m missing from the discussion so far is what effect an increased use of unmanned or rpv’s will have on the aerial refueling business.

    Offloads will probably be smaller but more frequent, creating a requirement for cheap, small and many tankers. Then again, Since B is not using this in their marketing campaign, what am I overlooking?

    • No idea. What you find:
      Boeing had announcements in 2006 for “autonomous learjet refueling from kc135”.
      The KC30 has been bought with expandability towards UAVs in mind.
      NG talks about buddy refueling for Global Hawk and similar.

      It is either “duh easy” or rather difficult to evolve into a “simple use” form.
      Either case would thus provide low boasting value.
      My personal guess would be “more difficult than anticipated”.

      Now loosing assets is what you have foes for.
      Thus I would not be keen to let a cheap and potentially eratic UAV near my
      crewed high value tanker.
      Buddy refueling on a completely unmanned basis looks more attractive
      ( and does thus not touch conventional tankers ).

      • you misunderstand. I mean you need a large number of booms in the air to refuel potentially large numbers of small uav’s – all requiring small amounts of fuel but large numbers of refuel points, preferably close by.

        So – a large number of smaller tankers could be required by uav’s

        and I fully expect KC-X to develop into an unmanned solution as soon as uav to uav is figured out.

      • You won’t need a large number of shuttlecocks in the air due to the endurance of the UAVs.

        Current MQ-9 Reaper can fly for over 24 hours with about 4,000 lbs of fuel. Within 3 minutes such a UAV could be filled up. Lets say 15 minutes per UAV. A KC-X 6 hours on station with two refueling poinst could refuel about 48 UAVs. Or a KC-X refills a fleet of UAV-tankers which refill UAVs.

        Another question remains: can any KC-X fly slow enough to refuel an UAV?

      • MHalblaub

        48 UAV’s at 4 klbs each is 192 klbs – or the capacity of the smaller offer on the table now.
        that’s continuous refueling and just barely enough to support 96 small uav’s (24h endurance, 4 refuel/hour).
        When we factor darkness and adverse weather as limiting the period uav’s can be refuelled per day that number of uav’s per refuel point drops dramatically – all supportin hte need for a larger number of smaller capacity tankers.

        even the excellent 16 page report referenced above only discusses bomber sized fuel offloads – while a bomber generally flies from base to base with maybe a single refuel requirement in between – limited by crew endurance – while a predator or global hawk could stay on station indefinitely if it didn’t run out of fuel.

        Since I see a bigger need for constant (staring) and widespread intelligence gathering than for massive fleets of bombers (or transports) traversing the Atlantic in a single bound – i’d say more is more – more tankers that is…

    • I think UAV will be refueled by other UAV like NG is testing this with a reversed probe and drogue system. The receiver aircraft flies in front. So only the UAV tanker needs a system to automatically catch the probe. So the manned tanker can stay out of the maybe dangerous refueling area of UAVs and only a few UAV need a complex system to catch the probe. UAV tanker may be refueled at a manned tanker if available to refuel further UAVs.

      I think UAV will be refueled by other UAV like NG is testing this with a reversed probe and drogue system. The receiver aircraft flies in front. So only the UAV tanker needs a system to automatically catch the probe. So the manned tanker can stay out of the maybe dangerous refueling area of UAVs and only a few UAV need a complex system to catch the probe. UAV tanker may be refueled at a manned tanker if available to refuel further UAVs.

      Refueling might be interesting for MQ-9 Reaper to trade fuel against weapon load. It’ll be less interesting for a RQ-4 Global Hawk with an endurance of 36 hours.

  2. Loren Thompson has posted an article about the new chinese J-20 fighter and how Robert Gates has made some bad calls (terminating F-22 production, amongst others) recently.
    He did touch on one point that makes me wonder if Boeing are happy about this “help”. He speaks about the relative stealth effectiveness between the F-22 and the J-20. Dr. Thompson, “Gates defenders will counter that although the Chinese J-20 looks a lot like an F-22 in its forward aspect, side and rear views suggest an airframe that is nowhere near as stealthy. Well maybe so, but balanced against that is the fact that China is probably more interested in using the new jet for striking U.S. naval assets, since it won’t be feasible for U.S. fighters to sustain a continuous presence in Chinese air space (there aren’t enough nearby bases).” This seems to support the situation where a larger tanker with longer range would be more useful. The very scenario he slammed the Air Force for using in their evaluations.

  3. Don’t worry, be happy. Boeing will win in the end. Even if EADS by mistake should grab this annoying tanker contract, we in Europe will make sure behind the scenes, EADS will never fulfill it …

    Never show fear to a computer … they can smell it.
    Boldly go to ‘start’,’run’, fill in ‘format :c’, enter, y, and shout “For god and country !”. If your heart is pure and your quest is righteous, all will be well.

  4. This truly has become a procurement process of epic proportions akin only to the heaviest of Nordic saga’s

    The more I ponder over Leehams, suggested key points, the more I rightly or wrongly come to the conclusion that the EADS option is the only way forward.

  5. Without jeopardising Leehams, new editorial guidelines Loki, is by far superseded by the modern day aeronautical Norse God, namely “Noggin The Nog’ of BBC fame, which due to his flying prowess is more representative for this forum & equally as farcical as this whole process has been to date.

  6. A different point of view on the refueling of UAVs, the size of the Tanker would have little to do with refueling the UAV as would the ability of the Tanker to take control of the UAV and position it and fly it while it is refueled. Basically a second controller would be required to fly the UAV so it could be refueled by Boom or Drogue. This would not require “Rocket Sciences” to do this.

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