The USAF KC-X tanker contest appears to now be a one horse race with the March 8 decision by Northrop Grumman to not bid its Airbus A330 based solution it was partnering with EADS North America for the program.
Northrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush said the company would not submit a bid because the source selection methodology defined in the RFP “clearly favours Boeing’s smaller…tanker.”
“In the previous competition, Northrop Grumman was selected by the Air Force as offering the most capable tanker for the warfighter at the best value for the taxpayer,” he said in a statement. “However, the Northrop Grumman and EADS team is very disappointed that the revised source selection methodology now dramatically favours Boeing’s smaller refuelling tanker. We agree that the fundamental military requirements for the new tanker have not changed since the last competition, but the Department’s new evaluation methodology now clearly favours the smaller tanker.”
The revised source selection is centred around the USAF’s requirement that development risk be shared between the service and industry, and that no additional credit would be available for the A330’s larger offload and greater payload capabilities.
Boeing has announced it will submit a proposal based on the smaller 767-200 airframe but with a new boom, 787 style cockpit displays and other enhancements.
“We continue to believe that Northrop Grumman’s tanker represents the best value for the military and taxpayer – a belief supported by the selection of the A330 tanker design over the Boeing design in the last five consecutive tanker competitions around the globe,” Bush added. “Regrettably, this means that the US Air Force will be operating a less capable tanker than many of our Allies in this vital mission area.”
Some analysts have suggested that EADS North America may go it alone and offer an A330-based solution for KC-X, although with the RFP due to close in early May, the time required to put together a proposal may be too short.