Boeing and Northrop Grumman have submitted their final bids, and the KC-X competition is moving into its final weeks – we fervently hope. The PR onslaught hasn’t stopped, however, with Northrop making an 11th-hour commitment to assemble the Airbus A330 Freighter in Mobile, Alabama if the USAF picks its KC-30. Boeing retaliated with a study showing a 767 burns less fuel than an A330 – therefore, QED, the KC-767 will save the Air Force beaucoup billions.
Meanwhile, here in DC, Boeing and Northrop have scheduled back-to-back briefings for us jaundiced journos to make their final (we hope) KC-X pitches. Northrop is tomorrow (Tuesday), but Boeing got in first, offering us breakfast with retired general Ron Fogelman, a former US Air Force chief of staff.
I liked Fogelman when he was chief of staff. A former fighter pilot who had also headed Air Mobility Command, he always seemed down to earth. Today, the first words he said were: “I am a paid consultant for Boeing.” We knew that, but he won brownie points for upfront honesty. Fogelman is also on Boeing’s “win strategy steering committee” for KC-X, and his role today was to provide his perspective as a former “customer, employer and provider” of aerial refuelling.
Basically that came down to backing Boeing’s belief the KC-767 is the right size for the Air Force’s KC-135 replacement requirements. In Fogelman’s words, those requirements are for a new tanker, first and foremost; optimised for aerial refuelling, en route and in theatre; and providing the maximum number of tails from the minimum number of airfields. “Secondary attributes are important, but not critical to a tanker. This fight should not be won based on secondary attributes.”
Here are some of the other things said:
Size: Northrop promotes the greater cargo and passenger capacity of its larger KC-30, but Fogelman said he was “hard over” against Boeing offering the even larger 777. He cited basing limitations including “maximum on ground” capacity, runway length and load-bearing tolerance.
Utility: There has been talk of using KC-Xs equipped with defensive systems to transport troops into combat zones, but Fogelman doubts the initial tranche of 179 aircraft will ever be used that way. “The aircraft are too valuable,” he said.
Split buy: Splitting the KC-X buy between Boeing and Northrop Grumman would be “dumb as a stump” from the operator’s persective, Fogelman said, because it would drive up life-cycle costs. “A spilt buy would be a non-decision, and should be an absolute non-starter.”
Avoiding a protest: Asked if he had any advice for the current Air Force chief of staff in today’s protest-prone acquisition environment, Fogelman said: “Establish the requirements, insist the decision be made on military utility, and don’t get down into the political.”