No KC-X Competition as Northrop Grumman Pulls Out

 - March 9, 2010, 5:21 AM

A version of the Boeing 767 dubbed “NewGen Tanker” will win the reopened U.S. Air Force KC-X competition by default, after Northrop Grumman declined to bid the Airbus A330MRTT. Northrop and EADS expressed disappointment that “the revised source selection methodology now dramatically favors Boeing’s smaller refueling tanker.” The transatlantic partnership further noted, “The Air Force previously had selected the A330-based KC-45 because of its added capability, lower risk and best value. The A330MRTT has been selected over the Boeing tanker in the last five consecutive competitions and will shortly enter service with several U.S. allies.”

When the draft request for proposal (RFP) for the Pentagon’s third attempt to procure a new tanker was issued in the fall, Northrop and EADS argued that none of the 373 selection criteria gave credit for the larger capacity of the A330MRTT nor, as they claimed, its lower risk. But only minor changes were made in the final RFP that was issued late last month.

Boeing said recently that it would bid a 767 tanker that featured cockpit displays taken from the 787 Dreamliner. It gave no further justification for applying the “NewGen” label; the “new-generation fly-by-wire refueling boom” on the aircraft is the same as that included on the KC-767s delivered last year to Japan. But Boeing may yet add more new technology in its bid, especially since the final RFP relaxed the previous fixed-price conditions so that Pentagon will share a small portion of any cost overrun during the KC-X development.

In a trenchant closing comment, Northrop noted that the unit flyaway cost of the first 68 tankers that were ordered in the aborted KC-45 contract was approximately $184 million including the non-recurring development costs. “With the Pentagon’s decision to procure a much smaller, less capable design, the taxpayer should certainly expect the bill to be much less,” it said. Boeing said that it would submit “a fully responsive, transparent and competitive proposal.”