USAF KC-X: Will There Be a Competition?
DID has covered developments in the USA’s coming aerial tanker program, which could reach 500 planes and/or $100+ billion before all is said and done, and is now listed as the USAF’s #1 procurement priority. The 707-based KC-135 fleet ranges from 40-50 years old, raising the risk that fatigue or aging-related problems could ground them at some unanticipated time. Since aerial transport, fighter strike missions, bomber missions, combat air patrols et. al. all depend on aerial refueling to some degree, a grounding of the KC-135 fleet could be catastrophic for America’s military posture. The formal RFP for the first tranche of 179 aircraft is due out on Tuesday, January 30, 2007, and the big question is… will there be a competition at all?
Boeing is believed to be offering a tanker version of its 767-200 airliner, which sells to commercial customers for about $120 million. Italy and Japan are already KC-767 customer’s. Northrop Grumman and EADS Airbus are offering a modified A330-200 that sells on the commercial market for about $160 million; Australia and Britain are already A330 MRTT customers. Northrop Grumman says the “KC-30 MRTT” can carry 20% more fuel than the 767, plus more cargo or passengers (26 vs. 19 pallets in the cargo deck). The issue for the firm is that the previous two drafts of the KC-X RFP have set only a low set of minimum requirements for the KC-X’s cargo and passenger capacity, without a higher “objective requirement” that offers extra points in evaluations. According to Flight International, Northrop Grumman says that it “does not see how the capabilities of the two competing aircraft can be measured if there is no adequately defined value scale for capabilities above the threshold requirement… Without a capabilities-based assessment [of the rival aircraft], we are concerned the KC-30 will not be competitive.”
The firm describes this as a joint position with its partner EADS, and says it will only make a decision on whether to incur the $40-50 million bid cost after it has seen the final RFP. Boeing’s site also lists a card up their sleeve: the larger KC-777, with twice the KC-767’s refueling capacity after 1,000 miles and twice the cargo capacity, is an option if extra capabilities are advantageous in the new RFP. See also The Lexington Institute, Jan 11/07, “Deal of the Century: Is Anyone Paying Attention?”