Boeing is formally protesting the U.S. Air Force’s “surprise decision” in favor of the Northrop Grumman/EADS Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) for the KC-X tanker requirement. According to the Air Force, the keenly fought award is worth $35 billion for up to 179 KC-45As–the new, officially approved designation. In a story on the KC-X published in AIN last June, it was reported that “size matters” while Boeing maintained its conviction that the Air Force wanted a KC-135 replacement that was not much bigger. It seems Boeing failed to appreciate that sentiment among KC-X acquisition officials was shifting toward the longer range, greater fuel offload and bigger cargo capacity offered by the A330, compared with the KC-767 Advanced Tanker (AT) on offer from Boeing. But Boeing was so convinced that the final KC-X RFP called for an “an agile, medium-size tanker” that it did not even offer a tanker based the largest available commercial versions of the 767, let alone the “KC-777” option that the company could have alternatively bid. The KC-767 is based on the 767-200. Boeing has long been convinced that the 767 is structurally superior to the A330; for example, it noted recently that the freighter version of the A330 is 57,320 pounds heavier than the 767-300F, yet offers only 25,130 pounds more payload. This is a profound difference that affects efficiency, according to Boeing. However, the A330F has out-sold the 767-300F by two-to-one since it was launched, and the A330 MRTT has beaten the KC-767 in the last four international evaluations of refueling tankers–in Australia, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and UK.
The Air Force said the A330 MRTT offered overall “best value” for the KC-X requirement based on the following five considerations: mission capability, proposal risk, past performance, cost/price, and an integrated fleet air refueling (IFAR) assessment. Boeing said the Air Force unfairly adjusted the KC-767’s most probable life cycle costs during the cost/price evaluation, and also broke its promise to adjust the result of the IFAR assessment for “real-world constraints,” such as the runway lengths and ramp space available during overseas deployments. According to Boeing, the IFAR assessment was based on a computer model provided by Northrop Grumman that was altered during the KC-X competition “to allow larger aircraft to compete.” But the Air Force said acquisition officials developed the five evaluation factors “after consulting with industry [and] met with offerers on numerous occasions to... provide feedback on their strengths and weaknesses.” According to federal law, the U.S. Government Accountability Office must review the Boeing protest within the next 100 days. Meanwhile, the team led by Northrop Grumman must suspend work on the initial contract worth $1.5 billion for four system design and development KC-45As that was awarded on February 29.