KC-X embarrassment, and further delay

 - December 3, 2010, 7:03 AM
Boeing and EADS both got a surprise in the mail last month: details of their rival’s bid for the KC-X competition. This is Boeing’s idea of a next-generation tanker. (Photo: Boeing)

The U.S. Air Force’s much delayed and troubled attempts to procure a new-generation tanker hit an embarrassing snag in November, when the evaluating office inadvertently sent out technical assessments of each proposal to the opposing bidders. The documents in question were the Integrated Fleet Aerial Refueling Assessments (IFARA) that model tanker operations in various scenarios. In the current incarnation of the KC-X competition the IFARA is seen as the single biggest risk factor.

Both bidders, EADS North America and Boeing, immediately contacted the KC-X office, which in turn evaluated the documents to see if the error had given either any unfair advantage. The Air Force received both bids some time ago and is currently in a final round of detailed questioning; it does not foresee that a further bid adjustment process would be required. It also noted that the clerical gaffe should not extend the deliberation process.

Originally, a decision was scheduled before the mid-term elections in early November, but that subsequently slipped to later in the month. Now the Air Force is saying there will not be a decision until early next year. In the likely case that the losing bidder appeals the decision, the clerical error might give the company a stronger case. Meanwhile, some analysts are suggesting that a split buy might be in the cards, with merits from both political and operational perspectives.