Countdown to KC-X – Northrop takes its turn

Welcome back to KC-Xtown. Tuesday opened with both sides taking shots at each other’s Monday announcements: EADS’s commitment to assemble A330 Freighters in Mobile if Northrop’s KC-30 wins; and Boeing’s release on the KC-767′s fuel burn. The latter raised some eyebrows and generated some pithy comment in the blogosphere, including Steve Trimble on The DEW Line and Bill Sweetman on Ares.

Tuesday was Northrop’s turn to brief the press, choosing lunchtime in the National Press Club, where KC-30 programme manager Paul Meyer did a comprehensive demolition job on Boeing’s KC-X proposal. The crux of Northop’s message: that the KC-30 offers lower risk and more capability at comparable cost to the KC-767.

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Here are the highlights of Meyer’s pitch:

Risk: Northrop’s proposal is baselined on the KC-30B already in flight-test for Australia, with the same cockpit, engines, boom and pods. The KC-767 proposed for KC-X is a never-been-built amalgum of the 767-200, -300 and -400 with a new “sixth-generation” boom.

Capability: The KC-30 can carry more fuel, cargo and passengers. Boeing questions whether the USAF can or will use this supplemental capability in an aircraft intended to replace the KC-135 tanker. But even just in the refuelling role, Northrop says the KC-30 has a higher “fleet effectiveness value” – FEV – than the KC-767, calculated using the same methodology that the USAF is using in the source-selection evaluation. One reason – a KC-30 returning from a refeulling orbit can use any surplus fuel to top up a tanker en route to the orbit.

Cost: Northrop believes the KC-30′s unit cost is “comparable” to the KC-767′s. It expects the “most probable life-cycle cost” – the cost metric the USAF will evaluate – to be higher because the KC-30 is a larger aircraft that will burn more fuel and cost more to maintain. But Northrop believes the KC-30′s extra capability will offset its higher cost when the USAF comes to calculate “best value”.

Avoiding a protest: Neither side is ruling out the possibility of the losing bidder protesting the contract award, but Meyer believes the USAF’s efforts to make the process as transparent as possible will mean that both sides will know exactly why they won, or lost. This could – should – reduce the chance of a protest.

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