Update, March 29: Airbus CEO Tom Enders now says a decision will be made in two-three weeks.
Geneva, Switzerland: EADS will decide within days whether to pursue a bid on the KC-X tanker program, this column has learned.
The Pentagon has yet to officially decide whether to grant a 90 day extension so EADS can be fully briefed on what is necessary to make a bid, something that Northrop Grumman had previously done as the prime contractor. EADS needs to be brought up to speed on everything Northrop learned during the previous effort to bid on the tanker.
Update, Mar. 19, 230PM PDT: Just when you thought this couldn’t get any weirder, Russia announced it plans to submit a bid to the KC-X, according to The Wall Street Journal:
In another twist to the ongoing saga to replace the Air Force’s aging fleet of aerial refueling tankers, United Aircraft Corp. of Russia is planning to bid on the $40 billion contract, according to a person familiar with its plans.
United Aircraft, an aerospace consortium owned by the Russian government, will seek to offer a tanker version of its Ilyushin Il-96 wide-body jetliner, dubbed the Il-98, this person said. The planes would be largely built in Russia, and assembled in the U.S., this person says. United Aircraft will partner with a “small U.S. defense contractor,” which will be renamed United Aircraft Corp. America Inc., this person said, declining to name that contractor.
Update, Mar. 19, 600AM PDT:
DOD says it might extend the deadline for submitting a bid so EADS can do so if it wants. Here is one story.
Update, Mar. 17, 900AM PDT:
This AP story cites EADS ambitions in the US, but buried toward the bottom is a new statement from EADS CEO Louis Gallois and EADS North America Sean O’Keefe about the prospect of EADS submitted a bid for the KC-X. Here is the excerpt:
Earlier this month, EADS pulled out of bidding for the Pentagon refueling tanker contract, saying a smaller plane offered by rival Boeing Co. appeared to be the front-runner. EADS, which had partnered with Northrop Grumman for the 179-tanker order, has criticized the contract as anticompetitive.
“The U.S. Air Force will not have the most modern, most capable airplane,” Gallois said. “It’ll be the first time the British, the Australians have a better airplane than the Americans.”
Gallois said it’s unlikely that EADS will submit a new bid for the tanker contract.
Instead, EADS will move to make other deals in the U.S. Building its presence here through acquisitions may bolster its case when bidding for national defense contracts, but “that would not be the objective,” said Sean O’Keefe, CEO of EADS North America.
But: comments added in our Comment section after the above posting suggest that EADS is still considering a bid if the deadline to do so is extended, and DOD might.
Won’t this ever go away?
Update, Mar. 16, 830AM PDT:
Airbus received EASA certification for the A330MRTT. Here’s an excerpt from the Bloomberg story that moved just a short time ago:
Airbus Tanker Gets Civil Certification From European Regulator
By Andrea Rothman
March 17 (Bloomberg) — European Aeronautic, Defence and Space Co.’s Airbus unit won civil certification for a military tanker version of its A330, putting the plane a step closer to maturity before it enters service in Australia by year-end.
Certification from the commercial aviation regulator, European Air Safety Agency, means handling qualities of the plane and on-board systems correspond to civil certifications, which are more stringent than military requirements. Besides refueling other planes in mid-flight, the A330 tanker could carry as many as 300 troops.
EASA’s approval is the first civil certification ever extended to a tanker and transport aircraft developed in Europe.
Update, March 15, 300PM PDT:
Richard Aboulafia has a particularly entertaining commentary in his latest monthly newsletter.
He also has a more prosaic but thoughtful commentary here.
Update, March 15, 900AM PDT:
This news report out of Europe updates the situation, in typical military fashion: Hurry up and Wait.
Information is coming out late today (March 12) that EADS may try and bid for the KC-X tanker contract after all. The Pentagon may extend the deadline for bidding to accommodate EADS, George Talbot of The Mobile Press-Register tells us. He will be posting his own story at www.al.com shortly.
Here are the stories:
In the three days following the withdrawal by Northrop Grumman from the KC-X tanker competition over its conclusion that the Final Request for Proposals for the USAF aerial tanker was irretrievably skewed toward the smaller Boeing KC-767, Northrop supporters and Europeans–notably France–have decried the fairness of the FRFP.
French officials in particular have bemoaned the development. Diplomats, all the way up to the President, have vowed “this is not over.” Retaliatory threats of freezing out US sales to Europe are being thrown about.
As readers of this column know, we have favored the Northrop KC-30 from the get-go and we have supported a split buy between the KC-767 and KC-30 for political and strategic reasons. With this reminder, we have this to say to Europe:
Get over it and move on.
Update, March 9, 7am PST:
EADS will not independently bid for the KC-X contract, Market Watch reports.
Update, 1pm PST:
Northrop will no-bid and not protest, we have confirmed. EADS is undecided whether to proceed with a bid on its own but it is unlikely. Northrop’s decision was reached over the weekend.
The USAF RFP was built to be a bid for the cheapest tanker, in the view of a source close to the competition. It was unwinnable by Northrop, it was concluded.
In the near-term, this kills the Airbus plan to build a production facility in Alabama.
As we reported Feb. 23, a DOD document pretty well indicated that the extra capability of the KC-30 wasn’t important in this round but that it would be considered in a future competition.
Northrop bid $184m in the 2007 competition it won for the KC-30 and suggests that taxpayers need to be sure Boeing comes in below this price as a sole-source bidder.
The full Northrop press release is below the jump.
Boeing, as expected, announced that it will offer the KC-767 to the US Air Force for the KC-X aerial refueling tanker competition.
The press release is below the jump.
There are a couple of very specific references in the press release challenging the KC-767 vs. the Northrop KC-30, which is based on the Airbus A330-200.
What we find particularly interesting is the announcement that the KC767 will have a 787-based cockpit, and a new fly-by-wire boom that as best we can tell is V 6.0 derived from the ill-fated KC-767AT. Illustrations on Boeing’s tanker web site have consistently shown a KC767 with winglets, but the press release says nothing about this (the updated tanker website continues to show a KC767W). It’s unclear what, if any, wing structural changes or whether a new wing might be involved, another feature from the KC767AT.
Boeing continues to cite the 24% fuel burn advantage it claims of the KC767 over the KC-30, which does not take into account additional savings afforded by winglets, which amount to about 4% on the commercial 767-300ER.
We also note Boeing’s specific reference to a flight control system that gives the aircrew “unrestricted access to the full flight envelop for threat avoidance at any time” as opposed to the computer-driven fly-by-wire system of the A330.
It has been assumed Boeing would offer a KC767 based on the Italian KC767, which is several years late and still undelivered. Market sources continue to assert Boeing has problems with the wing-mounted pods (Boeing previously said this has been fixed) as well as the fuselage center-line hose-and-drogue (Boeing previously declined comment). Boeing calls its offering the low-risk solution. Northrop continues to point to Boeing’s non-delivery of the Italian tankers as evidence of high-risk. EADS’ KC-330 MRTT is 18 months late to launch customer Australia.
We are hearing more and more than Northrop is more likely to protest the Final Request for Proposal than to no-bid the project. A announcement is expected by next week.
Northrop Grumman may decide this week or next what it will do about the bid for the USAF KC-X Final Request for Proposal, Leeham.net 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.
The Final Request for Proposals for the USAF’s KC-X aerial tanker is due to be issued Feb. 23. The controversial and hotly contested procurement between Boeing and Northrop Grumman is supposed to be decided as a result of information provided in the FRFP, but does another document issued this month by DOD hint at the outcome?
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.
Last week was quite active in aerospace and so were we, unable to post. So here’s a recap of some of the things that occurred and our thoughts.
More politics and the Tanker
For the past two years we have bemoaned the politicizing of the procurement process for the KC-X tanker, extending our criticism mostly on previous Boeing efforts with its Congressional supporters–most notably Sen. Patty Murray (D-Boeing/WA) and Reps. Norm Dicks (D-Boeing/WA) and Todd Tiahrt (R-Boeing/KS). Now comes Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Northrop/AL) who, in a display that represents all the worst of what’s wrong with Congress, placed a hold on 70 Obama Administration appointments in a fit over his displeasure of the KC-X Request for Proposals and his belief it disadvantages the Northrop Grumman KC-30.