And now a word on the tanker

Let’s take a diversion from Boeing’s Soap Opera over the 787 Line 2 and will-they-stay-or-will-they-go.

CNBC has a long piece plus several video clips with Ralph Crosby, the CEO of EADS North America, on the KC-X tanker issue. It’s well worth reading.

Well, we’re almost diverting from the Soap Opera. The Mobile Press-Register has a piece on the irony of Boeing Commercial Airplanes maybe planning to build the 787 in Charleston on a business model that is pretty close to the one Northrop Grumman and EADS plan to use to build the KC-30 tanker.

Boeing KC-7A7 tanker briefing

This is the fourth in a series of reports from the EADS media day and the Paris Air Show. We will be off-line Wednesday while returning to to USA.

Source: Winds of Change. Rendering of the KC-767 and KC-777.

Source: Catch 4 All: Comparisons of KC-777, KC-30, KC-767, KC-135 footprints.

Boeing held a dedicated tanker briefing Tuesday (June 16) to add detail to the announcement Monday by IDS President Jim Albaugh, who said the company’s tanker program has been remained KC-7A7. This designation reflects the ambiguity of what airplane Boeing will offer: a 767-based or a 777-based aircraft.

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KC-777 ready to go?

Update, 6:00PM Paris Time:

By now readers probably have seen the news from the Air Show on this topic: Boeing is prepared to offer either a 777-based tanker or a 767-based tanker, depending on the RFP requirements. Bloomberg News has a good summary of the IDS briefing on this topic. It may be found here. As far as the factual reporting goes, we don’t have anything to add to the Bloomberg piece. There is a full tanker briefing tomorrow, at which the media has been promised more detail.

Barring any more downpours like we had today to further dampen the spirits of aviation, we will be there..

Original Post:

This is the second in a series of articles from the EADS Media Day and the Paris Air show….

There was an interesting buzz at the Aerospace Journalist of the Year Awards dinner on the eve of the launch of the Paris Air Show.

Word was circulating that Boeing will announce at its Integrated Defense Systems briefing at 11 am June 15 that the company is prepared to offer the USAF a tanker based on the 777-200F should the new Draft Request for Proposals outline requirements for a larger medium tanker than Boeing’s previous KC-767-200AT offering.

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Off to the Paris Air Show

We will be attending the EADS Media Day June 13 and the Paris Air Show on Monday and Tuesday. Watch for our reports from each event.

Performance, delays will be factors in KC-X rebid

The US Air Force is gearing up to issue a new request for proposals, perhaps as early as July, for Round 3 of the KC-X aerial refueling tanker competition. Pentagon officials hope to award a contract by year end.

The contest is widely expected to be a rematch of the battle between the Northrop Grumman/EADS/Airbus KC-30 and the Boeing KC-767AT. Although nobody knows what specifications will be in the RFP, the belief is that it will largely reflect the technical requirements of those in the Round Two RFP won by Northrop.

Boeing successfully protested the award, saying the USAF gave extra credit to the larger KC-30 while telling Boeing that it would not—thus prompting Boeing to stick with its KC-767 proposal. Boeing hinted that had it known of the USAF preference for a larger airplane, it might have offered a tanker based on the 777-200F.

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USAF regains tanker competition

Update, May 28: Three KC-767Js are now operational with the Japanese Defense air force. The fourth and final tanker has yet to be delivered.

Update, May 26: India reportedly has decided to buy the KC-330 MRTT. It’s widely expected France will select the MRTT as well (no surprise there). Boeing apparently didn’t offer the KC-767 to India and probably won’t waste its time with France.

While Boeing in the previous USAF competition touted the fact that it has delivered a tanker (to Japan) and Airbus hasn’t, and that this would be the ‘year of the tanker’ to get Japan’s four tankers delivered and at least the first of the Italian tankers, the company didn’t offer the International tanker to India.

Anyone know why?

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According to this article in Reuters, the US Air Force has regained control over the competition for the KC-X tanker that will be re-run after the Government Accountability Office last year found flaws with its process.

Because of that, Defense Secretary Robert Gates was going to re-run the competition from his office. It looks like the USAF has convinced him that it can run the competition.

The Request for Proposals appears headed toward an issuance in the next 30 days or so.

A sole-source, winner-take-all competition looks like what the USAF will plan for. This supports Gates’ position (probably little surprise there) but is at various with some key Members of Congress, who have been advocating a split buy. Some other key members, including Sen. John McCain, favor a sole-source acquisition.

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Tankers: to split or not to split

Update, May 4: Veto threat over split tanker effort: read all about it.

Update, May 3:

US Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), chair of a House appropriations committee, has dropped (for the moment) his effort to insert into the FY2010 budget language requiring a split buy between Boeing and Northrop for the KC-X tanker. See this story.

Original Post:

Well, blow us down. Loren Thompson, the defense analyst, now favors a split buy.

He’s been all over the map on this procurement. A big defender of the Boeing KC-767 lease deal when that was on the table. For the KC-767 vs. the Northrop KC-30.  Defending the KC-30 award after it was given. Supporting the Boeing protest. Now this.

Followers (including this column) of Thompson, who is quoted frequently as a defense expert, respect his thinking but can’t help be a little baffled on this program.

Thompson’s rationale is what we’ve been advocating since we began following the competition several years ago: split the buy for operational reasons. The two tankers are differently sized: some missions are better suited for the KC-767 and some are better suited for the KC-30. Double the procurement, retire the old KC-135s more quickly.

On the other hand, US Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Boeing/WA), claims he was quoted out of context by KIRO TV a while back, which reported Dicks could “live with” a split buy. Now Dicks is back on his sole-source band wagon (for Boeing), even though Boeing now is fine with the idea.

And now, a plug for our Eco-Aviation conference. More information may be found here.


Gates on split tanker buy: over my dead body

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said there will be a split buy on the KC-X tanker program over his dead body.

“I’m laying my body down across the tracks,” Aviation Week quotes as saying in this short article.

It’s not Robert Gates but you get the point.

GE Boss seeks tanker compromise

The head of GE backs a plan to split the acquisition of the KC-X USAF aerial tanker between Northrop Grumman and Boeing, according to this interview done by the Cincinnati Enquirer.

GE Aviation will supply the engines on Northrop’s KC-30; Pratt & Whitney was selected to power Boeing’s KC-767.

And now, a plug for a conference organized by Air Transport World and Leeham Co.


Boeing takes hard hit on DOD budget

Boeing took a hard hit on the Defense budget announced today by Sec. Robert Gates. The C-17 program will be canceled after the current contract is filled. The CSAR-X helicopter procurement is canceled. The Airborne Laser system based on the 747, is reduced to research only. The Next Gen bomber is off the table. There are other programs in which Boeing was involved that are gone, too.

This makes the recompete for the KC-X aerial tanker all that much more important. Gates said this will proceed in the summer.

Update: Defense Industry Daily has this superb recap of the winning and losing programs.

We did a podcast with Addison Schonland of IAG and George Talbot of the Mobile Press-Register about the implications for the tanker procurement.

Here is a link to Gates’ formal statement.