Tanker Questions Take Flight

Congress has begun poking around on why and how the Air Force botched the effort to award a $40 billion contract for refueling tanker planes.

The questions came one day after the Pentagon said it would conduct another, expedited competition to decide who should get the extraordinarily rich deal: Northrop Grumman, which had won the deal, or incumbent Boeing Co., which successfully protested that award.

Here's what the AP had to say:

"Congress sought clarity from a Defense Department official and congressional investigators on whether the recent competition's failure was confined to the Air Force, or indicative of a more systemic problem among the Pentagon's procurement process."

A more systemic problem? We already know the answer to that.


By Robert O'Harrow |  July 11, 2008; 12:03 PM ET defense
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There were a few interesting points in yesterday's hearing, here are two:

A) Mr. Young will calculate life-cycle cost to 40 years from the 25 used prior.

B) The KC-135, KC-767 and the KC-30 are all considered "medium" sized tankers.

"A" Why the discrepancy? The Spec said "40" but the USAF decided to use 25. The KC-30 must have been uncompetitive using a 40 year calculation. EADS/Airbus must now cut their existing predatory pricing to make the KC-30 attractive from a life-cycle cost perspective.

"B" is quite laughable. It seems the USAF arbitrarily gathered a few aircraft together for the sake of competition. Looks like the three phased approach (KC-X "medium", KC-Y & Z "medium/large") is all but dead as nothing fits right. The KC-767 is very aligned to a "medium" KC-135. The KC-30 is of similar size to the KC-10 "large" bridge tanker, yet is re-labeled as "medium."

Since Mr Young wants only one airframe (Wed news conf) the best Boeing can offer is the B777. Unfortunately, it's not been developed as a tanker making its delivery period less attractive.

EADS/Airbus gets all the big points-- Airframe is flying, boom is almost to spec and tested on an A310, the USAF prefers it (remember Gen Lichte loves it, "More more more"), the USAF hates Boeing (lease deal, etc), Republicans love EADS/Airbus (Alabama is quite Republican).

Pointed opinions aside, indications suggest the Pentagon became stiff under Donald Rumsfeld. Under the Cheney/Rumsfeld methodology normal process & procedure are bypassed for the sake of their personal idealogical goals. Staff are hesitant to do anything under this type regime under threat of chastisement. Good staff work is immaterial unless it supported their predefined ideals. Thus decision making is based more on politics rather than data. This tanker purchase is a case in point.

Posted by: R J Lee | July 11, 2008 4:36 PM

As I see it, the whole bid thing is ludicrous.

This is not about bargains, or even necessarily the best price (though fair is what we should get). Its about what is good for the United State of American, not Europe, which has never paid for their own defenses, but wants and whines about being able to bid on American defense projects, when we cannot bid on theirs (big ones), or the terms for those we are I have incredibly onerous terms (150% to 200% offsets).

The incompetent (or agenda driven) team of Payton and Young are still in charge. That's not even the foxes guarding the hen house, they have been invited in, given Barca loungers and encouraged to clean out the hen house at their leisure.

A complete mockery. You would think they are being paid to destroy the United States, or maybe it's what they are being paid to do.

Posted by: Gregory Schmitz | July 11, 2008 8:50 PM

People relax.boeing screwed up. now they are crying.

Posted by: bhagwan_ca | July 11, 2008 9:05 PM

Decision by the Pentagon to rebid the U.S. Air Force's $35 billion contract for its KC-X tanker aircraft contract.

Even Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) supports the move, despite having a pivotal role in keeping Boeing from winning the contract in the first place.

The Government Accountability Office upholds Boeing's protest tanker award, and recommends rebid. The GAO report listed several reasons for sustaining Boeing's protest.

For the nation's next-generation refueling tanker aircraft, the U.S. Air Force said it wanted to acquire a "medium" tanker to replace its cold war 50-year-old KC-135 tanker refueling planes. But based on the Boeing 767 and the Airbus A330, the Air Force ended up picking a plane twice as big as KC-135 tankers.

Superior past performance: Northrop and Airbus, with Airbus parent EADS (European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co.), have never delivered a single tanker equipped with the refueling boom the Air Force requires. How can Northrop and Airbus have superior past performance?

How could they have chosen the Airbus KC-30, a larger, costlier, higher-risk tanker that falls far short of the requirements for fueling irregular, asymmetric conflicts of the future?

Does the Air Force have some explaining to do?

Probably not . . . Since Defense Secretary Robert Gates said his office will oversee the new competition instead of the Air Force, which made the original award this year.

Posted by: Jack Salley | July 12, 2008 2:51 PM

Specs are important... but all that aside...

If EADS/Northrop gets the contract, workers here get paid, and profits go overseas.

If Boeing gets it, BOTH stay here.

Don't we have enough US tax dollars going somewhere besides the US?

Posted by: Garrett | July 12, 2008 8:01 PM

Jack you said, "Even Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) supports the move, despite having a pivotal role in keeping Boeing from winning the contract in the first place."

You mistakenly said, "winning", I think you meant "buying" as in bribery! Three, executives, 1 AF, 2 Boeing, did serve time for that "win".

As to performance, since the last four countries to buy tankers got them from EADS, I guess the late Italian and Japanese tankers that Boeing/Aeronovali/JADC produced or are trying to produce, non operating yet, didn't give anyone a warm feeling! Could be that their 70 year old KC-135 experienced employees are slowing down?

And speaking of American jobs, while the Boeing/Aeronovali/JADC consortium is outsourcing their work to Italy, Japan and China, the Northrop team is outsourcing French jobs to Mobile, Alabama, USA!

Today's Ethics Word: Boinginate
Pronunciation: \Bo-ing-i-nate\
Function: Verb
Etymology: North Western US & Boeing/Aeronovali/JADC Consortium
Date: 2008
Transitive verb
: to habitually lie, cheat, bribe or steal if you really, really want to win

Posted by: BS-Buster | July 14, 2008 9:09 AM

Here's an interesting perspective: when I first started working for the Army some 24 years ago, there was a clause that was used in Government contracts that required that the product and even its components were of US origin (the Buy American act of 1933). It seems that the US Government is myopic just like those Walmart shoppers.

Posted by: Nick | July 14, 2008 11:41 AM

Regarding the KC-30 Tanker, and its freight capability---

NG/EADS claims pallet cargo capacity (maybe 463L and/or LD-3). But where is the Airbus signature front wheel well door bulge? Is NG/EADS low bidding this tanker without some required features for proper pallet/container handling?

The Airbus A330/340's are built with a slanting fuselage, the front lower than the back (who knows why, but I guess it's a space compromise with the electronic bay, FLG, and cargo space under the cockpit?). A cargo freighter cannot have a slanting fuselage for loading and unloading handling (cannot push cargo uphill when loading, nor unload cargo due to pressure from unload cargo?)

To level the fuselage, Airbus lowered the FLG by inserting a block in the FLG wheel well. Thus the FLG protrudes from the fuselage when stowed requiring a bulging door.

Where is this in the KC-30, and why isn't it there? A cost reduction measure? Is a main deck cargo loading/unloading automated?

Anyone know?

Posted by: RJLee | July 14, 2008 3:12 PM

This has all come about because of Boeing's crying because they lost this contract. I agree with McCain, and others, that Boeing should not get this contract regardless. The Druyun scandal only points at the top of the iceberg as to Boeing's integrity. Now they are crying because they lost a contract by the same methods (maybe) which they won others!! Boeing won a LOT of contracts they never should have won because of the politics at the top of the AF Acquisition chain. No one has looked into those. GAO look into them??????? pls! You would have to be kidding. To award this contract to Boeing after what the public learned over the Druyun, et al scandal would only reinforce the idea that we award contracts to companies that are involved, and take a big part in, scandals such as those. The AF made the right decision just based on that detail alone. If Boeing had won I would have been the first to cry "foul, crooked contract award". They did the right thing for ALL of the right reasons. A new competition is a complete waste only to let the politicians get their way. If Boeing wins the new contract, I, for the first time in my life, will write a scathing letter to my Congressman outlining some other details. I hope Northrop uses all of its political might to fight this and win the new contract. They are going to need to do just that. They have been sold under in the past when Boeing won contracts Northrop bid on. Boeing knows it! Now it is time Boeing acted like the losers they are and shut up! We are going to spend $M re-bidding this contract and I am afraid the outcome will be based only on politicians weighing in instead of on the facts of the contract. Crooks at work again!

Posted by: njo | July 15, 2008 11:01 AM

I have two cousins that are qualified on E-3 and KC-135R. This decision affects the Navy Tacamo contract, AWACs follow on and RC-135 follow on contracts too.

The US Taxpayer is being forced to bailout EADS Airbus for it's botched A380 program. FedEx and UPS cancelled thier contacts for A380s in 2005. They're WAY BEHIND schedule on their flagship aircraft.

EADS to date has not demonstrated a successful refuel of American Aircraft. Boeing Has.

More compenents are made in the US on Boeing's proposed aircraft. The 767 is better equipped to fit into existing airfields.

Maintenance crew members of the Air Guard and Air Force Reserve have SERIOUS resevations in the EADS airframe. They prefer Boeing. Training, parts, longevity...

Military and civilian pilots prefer the "feel" of the Boeing tanker and it's control design. It handles like an airliner. Airbus has replaced the traditional yoke found on large aircraft with a side mounted joystick.

Lastly, USAF DID NOT imploy a side by side comparison of these aircraft the way they did with the YC-14 and YC-15 trials of the mid '70s. This is a huge decison that requires better planning and analysis.

Kevin McGuirk
Former Congressional Special Assistant 104th Congress

Posted by: Kevin McGuirk | July 16, 2008 1:35 PM

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