Director of Communications and Air Force Affairs
The Air Force issued a revised request for proposal for 179 KC-X aerial refueling aircraft to replace its oldest KC-135 tankers yet again Feb. 24.
The most obvious difference in the new RFP is the fact the Air Force dropped one mandatory requirement, from 373 to 372 mandatory requirements. The missing requirement was for a microwave landing system. There are another 230 slight changes from the previous RFP based on criticism from industry and Congress, but otherwise, the document doesn’t deviate from its goal to meet Air Force needs while getting the best deal for the taxpayer, said Deputy Defense Secretary Bill Lynn at a Pentagon Press briefing.
The timeline: both Boeing and Northrop Grumman now have 75 days to turn in their proposals, followed by 120 days of evaluation and a projected announcement of a winner in early Fall. Since the protest was upheld, Northrop Grumman has threatened to not bid, but industry analysts can’t see Northrop Grumman passing on the largest defense contract in history to the tune of $40 billion.
Stirring the controversy is the World Trade Organization’s finding that the European subsidies to the French company were illegal. The subsidies reduced the cost-per-aircraft of the Northrop Grumman/EADS bid by nearly $8 million per aircraft.
While the Reserve Officers Association maintains no position on which company ought to be awarded this contract in its push for quickly acquiring a new aerial tanker, the association does maintain positions that should be considered when assessing the competition.
First, ROA holds a position on the necessity to retain an adequate aerospace industrial base in the United States. Click here to see the new resolution on the Defense Industrial Base, just passed in February.
In this resolution, ROA recognizes the industrial base as a key national security asset, without, which America is at a disadvantage. At no time in history has our aerospace industrial base been threatened as it is now. Click here to read about this plight in The Officer Magazine.
ROA’s position is that decision makers must carefully consider the implications to the defense industrial base of all future major budget and program decisions and take immediate steps to protect important, vital, and unique military equipment production lines. It specifically cites strategic airlift production lines.
No doubt the Tanker program is a key strategic airlift production line. Northrop Grumman has stated it will assemble their aircraft in Alabama. Boeing would be built in Seattle, Wash., and Wichita, Kansas. Both companies would utilize overseas suppliers for sections of either aircraft. The first seven Northrop/EADS aircraft would be built completely in Toulouse, France.
Likewise, ROA looks out for the unique needs of the Reserve. While the Air Force previously selected the Airbus 330 platform as their solution over the Boeing 767 platform, the Air Force did not take into account how the aircraft’s size factor will affect the Reserve Component units flying the tanker now. Many of the Reserve locations currently flying the KC-135 would not be able to accommodate a larger aircraft. Should Boeing bid the KC-777 platform, it is even larger than the Airbus 330. Either choice would require these bases to undergo a significant MILCON project to increase ramp and hangar space. With the White House cutting MILCON, a smaller airframe would be better suited for the Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve.
Lastly, ROA has taken a strong educational stance that America’s energy policy has a direct effect on national security given America’s reliance on foreign energy sources. Because the United States remains dependent on overseas oil as a source for aviation fuel, the life cycle fuel efficiency needs to be a factor included in any final contract determination. Over the life of the aircraft, the aircraft’s fuel efficiency can be both a significant taxpayer savings on fuel costs, and a significant carbon footprint reduction.
Advocates for both parties are likely storming the hill now and congressional pressure will again become parochial as Congress focuses on jobs in their districts. Either choice will mean jobs for Americans, it just depends on where. Instead of jobs, Congress must focus on the national security aspects of the choice: Protect our industrial base, protect the tanker mission heavily reliant on the Reserve Component, and consider effects on America’s energy predicament.