Boeing has been awarded a contract by the Pentagon for the USAF’s long-delayed KC-X tanker program.
Boeing’s KC767AT (Advanced tanker) concept beat out a bid by EADS North America with its A330 MRTT-based KC-45. The new aircraft will be known as the KC-46A in USAF service.
The win by Boeing surprised many analysts who had predicted an EADS win based on its aircraft being larger and more mature than Boeing’s still conceptual design, and also because it was previously awarded the contract in 2008 before that was overturned on a technicality by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) after a protest by Boeing. But Boeing has made improvements to its design since then which appear to have better met the requirements, and Pentagon officials said Boeing’s bid came in more than one per cent lower than that of EADS.
“We’re honored to be given the opportunity to build the Air Force’s next tanker and provide a vital capability to the men and women of our armed forces,” said Jim McNerney, Boeing chairman, president and CEO in a statement. “Our team is ready now to apply our 60 years of tanker experience to develop and build an airplane that will serve the nation for decades to come.”
The latest contract is the third attempt to fulfil the KC-X requirement since 2002. The first, a complex 20 year sole-sourced lease arrangement with Boeing was thrown out in 2004 after inappropriate dealings and favouritism by Boeing and USAF officials were discovered, and the second after Boeing’s appeal in 2008 was upheld after credit outside the requirements terms was given to the then EADS/Northrop Grumman bid. Northrop Grumman elected not to team for the latest KC-X bid.
The Pentagon is now obliged to debrief the losing bidder within 10 days of a request to do so, and the loser then has another 10 days in which to lodge an appeal. EADS has previously stated that it would not appeal if it lost unless it found something “egregious” in the process. “EADS North America officials today expressed disappointment and concern over the announcement by the US Air Force that it had selected a high-risk, concept aircraft over the proven, more capable KC-45 for the nation’s next aerial refueling tanker,” a company statement read shortly after the winner was announced.
“This is certainly a disappointing turn of events, and we look forward to discussing with the Air Force how it arrived at this conclusion,” said EADS North America Chairman Ralph D Crosby in a statement. “With a program of such complexity, our review of today’s decision will take some time. There are more than 48,000 Americans who are eager to build the KC-45 here in the US, and we owe it to them to conduct a thorough analysis.” EADS has planned to build its aircraft at a greenfields facility in Mobile, Alabama.
The first 18 KC-46As are due to be delivered by 2017 by which time the KC-135s they are expected to replace will be at least 55 years old, and it is expected 179 aircraft will be ordered. The USAF is also expected to launch follow up programs later this decade for the evolving KC-Y program to replace the remaining KC-135s, and the KC-Z program in the 2020s to replace the KC-10 in service.