Boeing still believes that the KC-767 is the right-size airplane to meet the KC-X tanker requirement, despite the U.S. Air Force’s selection of the larger Airbus A330MRTT, now voided. “I’m not convinced that they want a bigger airplane,” Chris Chadwick, president of Boeing Military Aircraft told AIN as the show opened. But, he added, “we do have options to bid a bigger airplane if the RFP [request for proposals] is modified substantially. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Last Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reopened the bidding process for the tanker contract and directed his own office to run the competition rather than the Air Force. His move came three weeks after the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the USAF had improperly conducted part of the previous evaluation that led to the selection of the KC-45, a version of the A330MRTT proposed by Northrop Grumman.
While acknowledging that the GAO had raised “significant issues,” Gates noted that only eight of the more than 100 points raised by Boeing in protest had been sustained. “I would not conclude that the underlying Air Force acquisition system is fatally flawed,” added Michael Donley, the newly nominated Secretary of the Air Force. However, the new competition will be run directly by the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, John Young.
Gates noted that his decision “does not represent a return to the first steps of a process that has already gone on far too long. If we limit the change, and industry is cooperative, we may be able to do it in six months,” Young told a Congressional committee last Thursday. He confirmed that the RFP will be amended to reflect the GAO’s eight specific findings. He said that the Pentagon would do a better job this time of spelling out to Boeing and Northrop Grumman what it required. The new draft RFP would be released in late July and early August, he said.
Notwithstanding Young’s assurances, Boeing remained unconvinced. “We remain concerned that a renewed RFP may include changes that significantly alter the selection criteria as set forth in the original solicitation,” the company said.
For its part, Northrop Grumman said simply, “the U.S. Air Force has already picked the best tanker, and we are confident that it will do so again.”