KC-X: Does Lichte still want a “more” tanker?

When the US Air Force announced on February 29, 2008 that Northrop Grumman/EADS North America beat Boeing for the KC-X contract, a reporter asked the chief of Air Mobility Command — Gen Arthur Lichte — why. Here’s that exchange:

Q: And just to follow, did size matter in this issue? I mean, the KC-30 istwice as large as the 767. Did that play into cost savings, and wasthat an issue in this decision?
GEN. LICHTE: Well, I –from a warfighter’s perspective, and I know the team looked at a wholenumber of things, but from my perspective, I can sum it up in oneword: more.
More passengers, morecargo, more fuel to offload, more patients that we can carry, moreavailability, more flexibility and more dependability. And so from myaspect, the team did tremendous work and now we will take that and putit into the fight.

The underlying philosophy behind that statement ultimately played a role in the undoing of the original contract award. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) ruled that the US Air Force communicated the opposite message to Boeing during the competition, among several other issues.

We won’t know whether Lichte’s “more” strategy remains in effect until the Office of the Secretary of Defense or the US Air Force releases a draft request for proposals, which is expected before October.

But that may be the key reason why Boeing offers the KC-767 or KC-777, with the latter obviously carrying more fuel, more cargo and more patients than Northrop’s Airbus A330-200-based KC-45 proposal.

In Gen Lichte’s press conference at the AFA convention yesterday, I reminded Lichte about his comments on February 29, 2008, and asked him if his “more” philosophy had changed.

Lichte replied that he would not pre-empt the details from the draft RFP. But he added that “our requirements are pretty much the same”, although several overlapping requirements have been consolidated into a single requirement.

But is having more fuel offload still a key factor for the competition?

“Certainly, when you are talking about replacing a tanker, fuel is important,” Lichte said.

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15 Responses to KC-X: Does Lichte still want a “more” tanker?

  1. arby 16 September, 2009 at 1:22 pm #

    The ability to carry all those medical litters is a worthless capability. When was the last time the Air Force ever required an entire airplane to be taken away from its primary mission and be filled completely with litters? NEVER!!!

    When does a tanker need to carry cargo and pax? Once to deploy and once to re-deploy. That’s only a small, insignificant fraction of its mission.

    The whole point is to pass gas and not carry pax, litters or cargo.

    And bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to MOG. I’d rather have two tankers to cover two missions heading in different directions than one tanker as a limfac.

  2. Solomon 16 September, 2009 at 3:04 pm #

    Certainly, when you are talking about replacing a tanker, fuel is important,” Lichte said.

    And that is why the Air Force is officially screwed in this upcoming contest. They’ve placed themselves in a no win situation. No matter who they choose its going to be contested. I’m almost in the camp of awarding the contract (like Amy Butler said) to provide airframes to both manufacturers and have LM tankerize it.

  3. Christopher Dye 16 September, 2009 at 3:16 pm #

    Some tanker thoughts:

    1. What effect if any will the retirement 50 C-5As have on the competition? Will this mean that Congress will authorize 50 more C-17s as replacements, or even perhaps agree to about 100 more so the AF would have the 300 strategic lifters it says it needs? Either of these decisons could soften the blow to BA if the AF again choses the 330 or a split buy.

    2. Also, to what extent could more C-17 production in the US enhance the chances of a negociated solution with the Europeans over the tanker? After all, they are our largest trading partner and fight with us in Afgh, and are also our allies in containing a moderately resurgent Russia. We have joint interests in seeing that our economies and industrial bases remain strong. We should be negociating an overall settlement based on win/win, not one in which there is one loser and one winner. In that latter case we are both losers.

    Richard Aboulafia has suggested a simple trade in which the Europeans would cancel the A400M and buy -17s and -130s built here in exhange for our buying 330 tankers built in Europe. The Europeans would save huge amounts in A400M development costs, while they and we would preserve/create jobs, save the costs of setting up a 330 assembly line here, and maintain our aviation industrial bases.

    On the other hand, if the point of all this now, in these tough times, is as much to save/create high tech jobs as to produce the planes most effciently, then some other arrangement might be worked out. The point is to work it out so we all benefit and keep our relationship strong.

  4. FF2 16 September, 2009 at 4:03 pm #

    arby, I have to disagree with you. The ability to carry personnel, cargo and wounded has a value, even if the main role of these planes is to refuel. Basically, you are giving the commander in the field the flexibility to decide how allocate his resources. Sure, if he allocates a plane to cargo, that’s one less for tanker duty, but that might be the appropriate priority on the day. Otherwise the central planner will have decided for you twenty years earlier how much resource you have for each task and which plane does what.

    Equally, being able to offload more fuel on occasion is useful even if you don’t normally take advantage of it.

    Now, if you have to pay more for this flexibility, then you need to make a call. But Northrop’s argument is that it doesn’t cost any more: you can have your cake and eat it.

  5. TL 16 September, 2009 at 6:30 pm #

    330′s 4 130Js & C-17s? I seriously doubt the Euros would see this as a simple solution, let alone bunching all the Euros together. After all, ‘New Europe’ is much closer to the US than ‘Old Europe’.

    From a political point of view, the EU is still a project in development and one fundamental aspect is building indigenous european independence which is one of the reasons why the European Defence Agency was set up and rationalization of defense manufacturers happening over time.

    For example, the Euros could have bought the An-70 quite a while back, a much cheaper prospect in spite of the required westernization. They could have saved all that money and already had something flying by now. They may well have the chance again now that the RuAF said it wants back in and that very probably means that the An-70 project is coming back to life.

    If the rumors are true and the Russians buy Aero-Vodochody in the Czech Republic, in cooperation with the Euros they could set up an production line there so the Euros won’t have worries about spare parts and supplies.

    Sound crazy? The French are very interested in the Mi-26 and have done extensive testing, the Russians open to a joint future upgrade. One wonders if, as maybe a mirror of the 330 4 C130J etc. exchange, whether it would make more sense for the Euros to co-produce a new Mi-26 rather than plunge billions more into the transatlantic heavy lift chopper.

    Not to mention the one eye on the promises made for the JSF that many euro countries are tied into. Simply put, the Euros have more options than in the past to just rely on the US.

    I suppose the real question is “Are the Euros still prepared to pay for this independent capability despite the cheaper and more available options, especially in these times of financial straits?”

  6. Steve 16 September, 2009 at 7:50 pm #

    Arby, I have to disagree too. When the USAF retired the C-141 and later the C-9 the primary litter carrier for medevac missions became the KC-135. Many missions only carry 8-10 people, but they can literally be lifesavers.

  7. airplanejim 17 September, 2009 at 2:32 am #

    @ Christopher Dye

    Certainly sir, you and Aboulafia have got to be pulling somebody’s leg in proposing a swap buy/build of A400M’s(C-17/C-130) for the KC-X contract. The A400M has at best 180 “firm” orders, since Malaysia and So. Africa are getting cold feet, and the KC-X is for 330. First tell me how building half as many is equal. Second the U.S. companies suggested, would build only a portion of the 180 while Airbag builds all 330 KC-X. Why on earth would anyone ever agree to something as dumb as that? Third Airbag would love getting out of the financial liability that they have for the A400M right now. I suggest why not let Airbus go ahead and build the A400M and Boeing build the KC-X. In that way, as you said “We have joint interests in seeing that our economies and industrial bases remain strong.” Lockheed is already building every AF fighter in production.
    As for negotiating with the EU over the tanker…… WHY, ITS OUR TANKER not theirs. So why give it to them to build?
    Now let’s examine the EADS countries that you believe are our good friends. The UK is the only country with any significant presence in Afgan. When our new president asked all the EU countries to step up and add troops there, they said no. Also the UK and Germany just announced when they were pulling troops out and France has been giving us the finger since Chas. de Gaulle. As for the concern about Russia, it is in their own best interest that the EU to be on guard there since they will go down first.
    In summary, there is NO good, logical reason for a win/win solution. It should be winner take all and to quote the good General since “more is better” ………GO KC-777.

  8. donald Wardlaw, AIA 17 September, 2009 at 4:31 am #

    Maybe a dumb question, but why not a C-17 tanker?

  9. SMSgt Mac 18 September, 2009 at 4:38 am #

    The ‘more’ statement was made in the context of the specified aircraft parameters and tradespace (min field lengths, ramp footprint, etc) for the KC-X contract. Failure to include that context in any discussion of ‘more’ is disingenuous – although music to Boeing’s ears I’m sure,
    I’ll reserve judgement on the next round of competition until it happens. But if the AF radically eases the performance objectives, especially as they concern the min runway needed to takeoff with full load, that will only scream the ‘fix’ is in for Boeing as loud and clear as a public admission of same.

  10. puppethead 18 September, 2009 at 1:36 pm #

    No KC-17 ‘cos it’s just too draggy. Not that it hasn’t been thought of before – I’m sure I read somewhere (an old Air International, maybe c. 1993?) that the outer wing fuel system was specifically designed to enable easy incorporation of hose-reel pods.

  11. eg 18 September, 2009 at 4:31 pm #

    @ puppethead
    So why not re-wing the C-17 with a nice high speed airfoil?
    You keep cargo and gain tanking capability, retain a lot of commonality and can still carry cargo on concrete.

    It would probably not cost as much as all the NRE for the new tanker.

  12. puppethead 20 September, 2009 at 12:57 pm #

    eg -

    Because for the cost of developing yet another airframe (albeit not entirely from scratch) the USAF could probably afford to buy both C-17s and KC-45s off the shelf.

    It strikes me as ludicrous that so much money is to be spent on development when there are 2 perfectly serviceable options (KC-767 and KC-30) already in the air. The USAF should decide what they actually want to achieve – replace the KC-135 or KC-10 – and pick one. Unless they consider that they need a more even tactical/strategic tanker balance, in which case pick both. But let’s not wait until KC-135s start dropping out of the sky like old F-15s – for starters, KC-135s have much bigger crews and no ejection seats…

  13. airplanejim 21 September, 2009 at 2:31 am #

    To SMSgt Mac

    Sarge, I find your above comment interesting in light of the fact that before the first KC-X RFQ was published, Northrop Grumman/EADS threatened to pull out of the bidding unless the RFQ was amended to which USAF bent over as requested and changed the requirements. As for the “min runway needed to takeoff with full load” question, what difference does 900′ extra for the B777 make considering that in USAF’s first round choice of the A330 they gave up the use of 2500 airfields world wide vs. choosing the B767. And again as the good Gen. Lichte said “more is better” and the B777 has considerably more GTOW than the A330.

  14. SMSgt Mac 23 September, 2009 at 6:23 am #

    RE: “…in light of the fact that before the first KC-X RFQ was published, Northrop Grumman/EADS threatened to pull out of the bidding unless the RFQ was amended to which USAF bent over as requested and changed the requirements.”
    1. NG/EADS no-bid ‘threat’.
    The no-bid ‘threat’ occurred between the issuance of the first and second DRAFT Request For Proposals (RFPs). Ethically and legally, there is no obligation to pursue a bid until a bid is submitted against the final RFP.

    2. “Unless the RFQ was amended…”.
    When the NG/EADS team informed the AF they were considering a ‘no bid’ on the KC-X contract they did so over concerns that the total capabilities of the contenders were not going to be given proper consideration in the evaluation process. There was NO demand to change ‘requirements’ per se.

    3. “…which USAF bent over as requested and changed the requirements”
    According to the AF, there were none made to the final RFP as a result of NG/EADS ‘threat’. And according to a fairly evenhanded industry analyst (see Leeham News and Comment: http://leehamnews.wordpress.com/2008/08/06/pentagon-reissues-tanker-rfp/ ) both the NG/EADS and Boeing gained some positive adjustments to the requirements between the second draft and final RFPs.

    Boeing got a lot of mileage out of the ‘changed RFP’ drumbeat, when in reality, any changes before the final RFP aren’t supposed to ‘count’ in the contracting world. Alas, as we have seen, all bets are off once the politicians and shysters get involved.

    BTW: My guess-timation is that if Boeing offers a standard -200 size 777 aircraft (one of my all-time favorite commercial aircraft designs) they’re going to try to force relaxation of performance and footprint parameters in the next contract. If they offer a shortened 777 (something they passed on previously while choosing to stretch a 767 as a more sensible option to fill a market niche) they will be at a slight disadvantage on structural-weight fraction while still presenting a higher-risk ‘new’ configuration (Franken-Seven-Seven?).

    Bonus Guess: expect an ‘engine’ option war as well.

  15. Jimmy 23 September, 2009 at 6:29 pm #

    A split buy still sounds like the best political and capability answer to me. http://americanmohist.blogspot.com/2009/04/tanker-split-buy-can-be-cheap-too.html

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