Question of the day: KC-787?

Everybody else seems to be Monday morning quarterbacking how Boeing lost the KC-X contract, so why can’t I?

The US military acquisition community always SAY they want best value, but what they really want is best performance. Best value is a conveniently loose term that can be fudged to justify any decision.

That’s why I wonder if Boeing botched the bid by failing to offer a tanker version of the 787.

Yes, it would mean the USAF might have to wait a few more years for production slots to become available. Yes, the all-composite fuselage would present some engineering challenges to make it a tanker. Yes, it would be more costly than a KC-30B proposal.

But, with hindsight, you have to wonder how a Boeing bid anchored on a KC-787 proposal would have turned out.

Remember that the 787 is just larger than the A330-200, but not quite so large as the 777F. Remember, too, that the 787 was designed to knock the A330-200 out of the commercial market, and it is by all accounts a formidable machine on paper (once Boeing works out the costly bugs in its production system).

And remember that the USAF above all prizes performance when it buys aircraft. One wonders in retrospect if the KC-787 could have been unbeatable, and whether Boeing made a classic strategic error by failing to promise the aircraft’s availablility for KC-X.

3 Responses to Question of the day: KC-787?

  1. OV-099 18 March, 2008 at 2:50 pm #

    In the comment section in Wallace’s blog (LINK), I indicated (see below) that, yes, Boeing should have developed their KC-X proposal and 787 concurrently, albeit that this would have forced Boeing to go with less composites in the fuselage. Do note however, that such a bid would have faced an upgraded KC-30 proposal which would likely have included GEnx engines and some upgraded fuselage features derived from the original A350 version (not XWB).


    Translation: Yes we now we’re pandering to Murray & Co. Please don’t tell them that we could not have offered the triple seven (in any version!) due to it’s horrendous field-length capability at MTOW. The RFP required 7000ft and we’re more than 50 percent off that target with our lovely 777. You know, we at Boeing have generally optimized the wings for our BCA’s for maximum efficiency at cruising altitude, and, btw, that’s one of the reasons why we don’t like doing aerial demonstrations at air-shows. The other reason being that we never wanted to use not invented here “flight envelope protection” technology. At the Paris Air Show last year, the flying display of the threeeighty each afternoon was jaw-dropping. Actually, we kind of got this erie feeling when Robert Gates and Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne toured the first of five KC-30B’s for the Royal Australian Air Force. Unfortunately, at the same time, the A388 performed some seemingly impossible “aerials” overhead. Scott and Jim were pretty p****d off by the whole thing. So, you see, the sixseven was unfortunately (for us) the only option available since we had decided to go down the CFRP route on the eightseven in 2003. In hindsight, we should have started to develope a modern WB prototype equivalent of the 367-80 (or “Dash 80″ if you will) in 2001 instead of pursuing Mullaly and Gillete’s Sonic Cruiser, which unfortunately turned out to be nothing but a “boondoggle”. As you know, the “Dash 80″ is considered to be the prototype for both the Boeing 707 airliner and the C-135 series aircraft (including the best known variant, the KC-135 air tanker used by the USAF). We had known for a long time that the stratocasters, oh, sorry, the stratotankers were up for renewal. We knew, of course, that the threethirty/dash-twohundred was clobbering the 767 in sales. In the longer term, it was clear, we just couldn’t compete with an airplane having such an incredible wing foil. We did make quite a few sanctimonious comments of their “crappy” A340s knowing all along that it didn’t cost them much extra to produce those frames, and that the R&D for our 777 program cost us about twelve billion dollars, or three times more than they payed for the whole A330/A340 program. Actually, it really sucked. For about one third of what we threw on the triple seven, partly thanks to mismanagement leading to a 100 percent cost ovverun, they developed a 767 killer and the A340 in one go, where the latter aircraft managed to keep us honest in triple seven sales campaigns. However, we didn’t care that much since nobody seemed to be taking senator McCain seriously due to his continous harping on POW/MIA affairs, and we all “knew” that the USAF would go for the 767 and wouldn’t mind paying the list price for 100 frames. As we’ve already explained, when the 767 leasing deal didn’t work out for us at all, we did have a so-called “window” to abandon the sixseven and go for a new frame. We should, at the time, have realized that a new 787 program would have to include a civilian airliner as well as a tanker derivative from day one. Interestingly, if we’d pursued such a strategy, we would have chosen an advanced Al-Li structure for the fuselage because the USAF didn’t like a CFRP fuselage since they couldn’t readily attach big military “things” to it. We would still have gone for a CFRP wing, but made it substantially “stiffer” in order to prevent too much oscillation to the outboard pods housing the hose and drogue units. It’s pretty ironic to contemplate that had we nixed the 767 in time we would probably have won the KC-X competition and would likely have avoided the current mess we’re having with the 787 program due to us doing much more work in-house thanks to Patty Murray and her friends in Congress. They would have “forced” us to use more than 60 percent of american made components on the Al-Li fuselage and CFRP wing on both the KC-X and its sister, the 787. Ironically though, we would probably have copied the main methods used by Airbus in their way of manufacturing (with some major fuselage parts being flown in to Everett and most likely manufactured by Spirit AeroSystems), but we would not have pursued such a massive program of outsourcing of design and development that we have seen occuring in the real seven-late-seven program.

  2. Lugo 19 March, 2008 at 12:32 am #

    Seems to me they’d get clobbered on cost and risk in a KC-787 proposal. Plus, insofar as the 787 has very significant foreign content, the whole lame “buy American” selling point would be far less convincing.

  3. Patriot1234 26 December, 2009 at 10:43 am #

    Lugo wrote: “Seems to me they’d get clobbered on cost and risk in a KC-787 proposal. Plus, insofar as the 787 has very significant foreign content, the whole lame “buy American” selling point would be far less convincing.”

    There is “risk” in anything truly worthwhile and revolutionary. The day America becomes paranoid about risk it becomes more like Europe. That is not a good thing.

    There is also nothing at all “lame” about a country maintaining its military and high technology production capabilities. It is simply national security common sense. In fact, the whole tanker program shouldn’t even be open to foreign competitors when America obviously has the ability to build its own tankers.

    The only time America, or any country for that matter, should consider buying foreign military products is if it is not capable of producing it itself.

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