No KC-30 means no A330 plant in Mobile

Airbus has said it before but it is worth reminding people that if Northrop Grumman follows through on its statement that it will not bid the KC-30 in the KC-X competition unless significant changes are made to the Draft Request for Proposals (DRFP), Airbus won’t build an A330-200F assembly plant on its own in Mobile (AL).

We checked with Airbus immediately after Northrop’s announcement and a spokesman confirmed that the company’s position has not changed: there is no “business case” for an A330F final assembly line (FAL) without the KC-30 tanker contract.

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Northrop says no bid on tanker unless…

Update, December 2, 3:00 pm: DOD Buzz reports that Rep. John Murtha, a powerful House member, says there has to be competition for the KC-X and doesn’t rule out Congress stepping in.

This is something we forgot to mention in our Update below. We fully expect an effort on the part of some Members of Congress to renew the effort for a split buy. As we have written many times before, we can think of many strategic reasons this makes sense, let alone the political solution. But this also only makes sense if the procurement is doubled from the 12-18 per year proposed by DOD to 24-36 a year. We also believe the KC-777 is the best replacement for the aging KC-10.

There is enough strategic need to go around for everyone. That this continues to be a political football should be an embarrassment to all concerned.

Update, December 2:

(See Original Post below the jump for background.)

The prospect that Northrop Grumman won’t submit a bid unless the Final RFP is changed to allow for the different sizes between the KC-30 and the KC-767 is very similar to what happened with the 2006 competition.

The USAF then initially did not plan an “extra credit” for larger capabilities exceeding the minimum requirements of the airplane. Northrop threatened to withdraw from that competition unless the FRFP allowed for extra credit–and prevailed.

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KC-30 MRTT refuels fighters through boom, drogues

EADS released these photos of the KC-30 MRTT refueling fighters. The company previously released photos of refueling as viewed through the 3D controller’s panel video screen. The MRTT has now “passed gas” (as we like to say, much to the consternation of the more straight-laced crowd) through the new flying boom from the MRTT.

Source: EADS North America

These delayed tests have been the target of much criticism from Boeing supporters, who pointed out that EADS has been delayed in meeting milestones for the Royal Australian Air Force deliveries, which are now 18 months late. About six months of the delay was due to customer change-order requests.

KC-767 to benefit from 787 “surge” line

Key points:

  • The ability to increase production rates to sell more 767s in the coming years;
  • Lower production costs, which will be built into the KC-X bid in the hot competition with the expected Northrop Grumman KC-30 submission.

Boeing’s proposed KC-767 refueling tanker will benefit from plans to establish a surge production line for the 787 program.

The connection is not obvious, for Boeing didn’t suggest as much when it announced that Charleston (SC) will be the location for the second 787 production line. As Line 2 is being established, Boeing will put a “surge” 787 line in Everett (WA), where Line 1 is located. The surge line will be in the forward bay where the 767 line is, requiring relocating the 767 line to the aft part of the bay.

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Tanker DRFP may violate law: former procurement official

Inside Defense, a subscription-only publication, today reported that a former defense procurement official believes the current KC-X tanker Draft RFP may violate the law. Here is what Inside Defense sent out in the public domain:

Former Top Procurement Official Questions KC-X Compliance with New Acquisition Law

The Pentagon’s solicitation for the KC-X aerial refueling competition is inconsistent with the 2009 Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act and may violate the law, according to a former top federal procurement officer.

That critique, by Robert Burton, a former deputy administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement and Defense Department veteran, comes as a powerful lawmaker and a key architect of the recently enacted weapon systems acquisition reform law — Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) — is raising questions about whether the KC-X draft request for proposals, issued on Sept. 25, complies with the new act.

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Prediction: Boeing offers KC-767

Update: Defense News just published this article detailing the continuing problems Boeing has with the KC-767 Italian tanker, including the centerline hose-and-drogue problems we previously exclusively revealed in this column.

Original Post:

With Boeing and Northrop Grumman still in the Q&A stage with the USAF in advance of a Final Request for Proposals in the KC-X competition, we predict that Boeing will offer the KC-767 and not the KC-777.

Here’s why:

Boeing “leaning” toward KC-767

Boeing is “leaning” toward offering the KC-767 to the US Air Force in the KC-X competition, an executive revealed at a conference in Everett (WA) today. Boeing previously has been coy about whether it will offer the KC-767, or a tanker based on the 777 or two separate bids, one for each airplane.

George Maffeo, Vice President of Supplier Manager for all the 7-Series commercial programs except the 787, told the annual Aerospace Conference of the British-American Business Council-Pacific Northwest that the tanker development team of Boeing’s Integrated Defense Systems (IDS) unit has moved over to Boeing Commercial Aircraft (BCA) to learn from their experiences to offer better technologies and cost efficiencies to beat the Northrop Grumman/EADS/Airbus KC-30.

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Northrop wins tanker contract

Update, 9:30 am: We’ve added more information below the jump.

Northrop Grumman won a big KC-10 tanker maintenance contract from the Air Force this week, taking it away from Boeing, which has had it for 10 years. The value is $3.8bn.

Boeing hinted that it might protest the award. Here is the story.

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KC-X tanker DRFP released

Update, September 28: DOD Buzz reports Boeing is going to offer two bids, one each for the KC-767 and KC-777. Here is the link. We think this is a brilliant move.

Original Post:

Here is the link to the RFP. We’ll add information after we’ve read it, which will take all weekend. One thing we did find right away: the USAF is asking for field performance data on runways 6,000 ft to 15,000 ft. This means the Boeing 777 isn’t zapped on this criteria; the 2006 RFP required 7,000 ft. runways. The Systems Requirements document does include a 7,000 ft. runway requirement. SRD document pg. 26, 3.4.2.2.1.

On another requirement from the 2006 competition: spare engines had to be transportable in the C-130 cargo plane. A 777 GE 90 wouldn’t fit; this requirement has been changed to the C-17. The C-17 has an 18-foot wide cargo bay; the GE-90 is slightly over 10 ft wide (bare engine, without nacelle). SDR pg. 40, 3.6.3.3.1.

Here is Boeing’s statement, issued upon receipt of the DRFP:

“Our next step is to conduct a detailed review of the document. We want to understand how requirements will be defined and prioritized and how the proposals will be evaluated. That information will help us decide which plane to offer or whether to offer both planes. We appreciate that there will be frequent, open discussion with the U.S. Air Force as we go forward. Both the Air Force and the American taxpayer will benefit from the tanker options we can offer. Boeing has a KC-7A7 ‘family of tankers’ available to meet the warfighter’s requirements. Whether it’s the agile, flexible 767-based tanker or the large 777-based tanker, Boeing will deliver a combat-ready tanker with maximum capability at the lowest cost.”

What is noteworthy is the reference to offering the KC-767 and the KC-777. This is contrary to stated DOD intent to buy only one airplane. This is something we suggested Boeing do for the 2006 competition on the theory it would checkmate the Northrop bid. While we think the 777 is too big for the KC-X competition, a dual-offer by Boeing simply cannot be matched by Northrop.

Northrop believes its KC-30 is the right-sized aircraft in the sweet spot.

Here is Northrop’s statement:

“Northrop Grumman applauds the Defense Department and U.S. Air Force for re-starting the effort to replace its Eisenhower-era KC-135 aerial refueling tankers, and the company is looking forward to competing for and winning the contract again.

“Northrop Grumman will review the draft RFP and provide the U.S. Air Force with comments on the draft in short order.  We will defer further public comments until we have completed our review.”

Here is the synopsis as publish on the Business Opportunity website.

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