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USAF tanker battle resumes

written by WOFA | October 30, 2009

KC-777 B-2Hot on the heels of the USAF re-releasing a draft RFP for its KC-X tanker replacement program, Northrop Grumman has opened the possibility of boycotting the competition due to what it says are faulty draft bidding rules and because it claims Boeing received an unfair advantage when it was given costing information on Northrop’s previous bid.

The KC-X process is now in its third iteration following two previous aborted attempts to run a fair and equitable competition, both of which Northrop Grumman/EADS won with their A330 based offering against Boeing’s KC-767AT.

“Compared to the last competition, we may be on a path where the taxpayer may pay more for less capability,” Mitch Waldman, a Northrop vice president, told a Washington media briefing on October 28, comparing the competition to a “race to the bottom.” When asked whether the company would consider not offering a bid in the competition, Waldman said, “We really need to see what the final request for proposals looks like before we make that determination.”

The Pentagon has dismissed Northrop’s threat, but has agreed to consider all feedback before releasing the final RFP. “I find that extraordinarily hard to believe,” a Pentagon spokesman said. “This is an extremely lucrative contract and I don’t think we have any doubt that there will be a healthy competition to win it.”

“I would imagine that we are going to consider some change to the RFP,” Air Force secretary Michael Donley told Aviation Week, adding that he wasn’t happy with the political posturing and public campaigns that were already starting to emerge, despite no firm RFP having yet been released. “We really don’t need the emotional [element] and this is a tough project in and of itself,” he said. “We don’t need all of the difficult and complicating elements that are added to that when people try to develop campaigns in favour of their program.”

It is expected that 179 tankers will be required for KC-X, with possible follow-on orders early next decade under the planned KC-Y program to replace the USAF’s large fleet of 1950/60s era KC-135 tankers. Boeing is yet to indicate whether it will offer a version of its 767 which is smaller than the A330, or the larger 777 (pictured).


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