Northrop and Boeing regroup for KC-X fight

Farnborough Air Show » 2008
July 16, 2008, 11:39 AM

Northrop Grumman rates its chances of clinching the KC-X contract as only 50 percent, if the U.S. Congress intervenes in the decision. Paul Meyer, who heads the company’s bid team, told Aviation International News of his confidence that the Pentagon would select the KC-45 again the second time around. But he fears that protectionist sentiment could overturn the verdict.

Meanwhile, Boeing vice president of Military Aircraft marketing Chris Raymond insisted, “this is not about protectionism–we’re a global company.” He said that Boeing had never previously protested an award, but had done so this time “because of the magnitude,” and the principle. Raymond disputed U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ comment last week that Boeing’s protest had only been sustained on eight counts out of more than one hundred. “We had 15 issues. Seven of these were sustained by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and on another three, they told the Air Force to make further studies,” Raymond said.

At an unscheduled briefing here yesterday, Raymond introduced Dave Bowman as Boeing’s new vice president and general manager of tanker programs. He replaces Mark McGraw and will manage the rebid, reporting directly to COO John Lockard. Bowman has run the C-17 program for many years, and is well known and respected at the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command, said Raymond.

The big question now is, to what extent will the requirements change in the new RFP? Both contenders say they would be happy if the answer is: “not much.” “If they hold stable, we feel very confident,” said Meyer from Northrop Grumman. Boeing formally stated its concern that the new RFP might “include changes that significantly alter the selection criteria.”

Clearly, Boeing is on red alert for any change that would favor the larger KC-30 over its advanced 767 tanker. In fact, Raymond and Bowman suggested that the Air Force really couldn’t make such a change, unless it went through a long process of revising its basic concept of operations (CONOPS), running that by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC), and then revisiting the system requirements document (SRD). But had the rival bid caused the customer to change his thinking on CONOPS? “I see no evidence of that,” said Bowman.

Despite its long tanker heritage, Boeing is having a hard time defending its recent performance. The KC-767s for Japan–equipped for boom-only refueling–are late being delivered. The Italian KC-767s with the added wing pods for a drogue refueling system are even later. The KC-767 was almost certainly one of the three Boeing programs whose management counted against the company in the KC-X evaluation. Another was probably the P-8 Poseidon, admitted John Lockard here last Monday. “But when was the last time they checked? It’s a big success now,” he added.

Proposal risk was another of the five evaluation factors. Said Northrop Grumman’s Meyer said, “While our competitor still has not built the tanker or boom system they offered, our configuration is built, tested and flying now. It’s won all five competitions against the 767.” Speaking to AIN, Meyer added, “Our boom has passed fuel and been deployed inflight. And the pods. It’s on show here, fitted to the A310. I challenge Boeing to show us the fact of theirs.”

Boeing can’t do that yet, but it’s no big deal, said Bowman. “There’s no new design here, these are not huge new steps. We’ve been mixing and matching things for years; it’s part of our commercial airplane heritage.” Added Raymond, “We don’t regard the Advanced Tanker as high-risk.”

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