US Aerospace explains Antonov bid for KC-X

Chuck Arnold extended his layover at JFK airport this evening to answer phone calls, including one from me. Arnold, senior advisor to the board of directors of sudden KC-X competitor US Aerospace, Inc., was halfway home to Los Angeles. He had flown in from meetings at Antonov headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine.

It was 11pm in Kiev last night when Arnold says he sealed the deal. Tiny US Aerospace would offer Antonov aircraft for KC-X, facing off against Boeing and EADS for a roughly $35 billion tanker contract. Arnold didn’t get to sleep until a few hours later. First, he had to call the Pentagon to inform a wide range of military officials that a Ukrainian-built aircraft would enter the KC-X competition. He was honest – if diplomatic – about their reactions.

“Everyone’s been rather reserved on this,” Arnold says. “They haven’t had time to think about this.”

Tell me about it. I’ve been covering the KC-X contract war for nearly a decade, and I’ve seen a lot of strange things. But a surprise bid by a small American firm offering a non-existent Ukrainian transport with no announced supply chain to the US Air Force one week before the deadline for proposals? Well, that tops them all.

Arnold has been traveling for most of the day and missed the storm of coverage that erupted after the story broke, which included aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia’s verdict that the Antonov-based KC-X proposal is “dumb beyond belief” and a “complete waste of time“. But Arnold is at least not unaware of the apparent absurdity of the situation.

“Most of the first responses I get are like yours,” he says, adding with mock disbelief: “‘Are you offering a Ukrainian manufacturer for the KC-X tanker project?’”

The answer to that posed question from Arnold is a definitive yes. It’s still unclear how seriously we should take this bid. It’s the kind of story that makes me worry I’m falling for this year’s most belated April Fool’s joke. After speaking with Arnold for 25 minutes, he gave the impression of not only sincerity, but also a surprising — and arguably unjustified — confidence for his team’s chances. He patiently answered some of the many questions his announcement raises, so I’ll try to now put his responses into the public record. I didn’t tape-record the phone interview. I wasn’t expecting a return phone call at 5:30pm on the eve of a holiday weekend. But I’ll do my best to paraphrase the conversation based on my notes.

Please click on the jump to read the paraphrased Q and A with Arnold: 

Question: You’re offering three different aircraft: the An-124, An-122 and An-112. I know what the An-124 is, but can you tell me what are the An-122 and An-112?

Answer: The An-112 is a design that will be an adaptation of one of Antonov’s existing models. That is the design that will provide an aircraft that should fill all of the requirements for KC-X and could be the lowest bid provided in the competition. In the second half of the program, the US Air Force is looking for more requirements. We believe that’s where the An-122 and An-124 will offer an advantage.

Question: By saying “the second half of the program”, you’re referring to KC-Y?

Answer: Yes.

Question: Can you go back to the An-112 and explain what that aircraft is? There is a reference on Wikipedia that refers to the An-112 as a jet-powered, swept-wing adaptation of the An-12. Is that true?

Answer: We will be able to release details about the An-112 after we get the performance specifications on Monday. It’s close to what you are describing. It’s not quite that, but it’s close to that. I want to emphasize that the An-112 we feel will be the number one aircraft in the competition.

Question: Where will you source the refueling equipment?

Answer: Refueling parts are components that are very sensitive, and they will be among the equipment that is sourced in the United States and subassembled here.

Question: What engines are you offering?

Answer: US Aerospace is looking at both Pratt & Whitney enginers, either those or General Electrics. We’ll also make that decision on Monday. We’re leaning towards GE.

Question: Can you explain how you’re going to put together a responsive bid in a week to a KC-X request for proposals that includes 372 mandatory requirements and 93 non-mandatory specifications?

Answer: This is something that would take Boeing 50 to 100 people for three months. We’ve been working on this since November last year. But you’re right. This next week will be really busy. All of us will be working on this day and night.

Question: Can you go back to the refuelling issue and discuss where you’re getting the boom? The refueling boom is [nearly] unqiue to the US Air Force and there’s only so many sources of supply. You can find probe-and-drogue systems all over the world, but there’s only a few places you can source refueling booms. So how will you do that?

Answer: The boom is one of the few pieces that will have to be done here in the US. When we submit the bid we’ll have that specification there. We have to make a decision between three suppliers. We feel comfortable that we can provide a boom that meets the specifications. I can’t say more because we haven’t finished final negotiations on the specifications.

Question: Where would US Aerospace place final assembly if you win the contract?

Answer: We’re looking at the Southeast right now. We’ve talked to a few states down there and received a good response. It will be Southeast or Midwest. We will be making that decision also this week. These will be busy days.


19 Responses to US Aerospace explains Antonov bid for KC-X

  1. irtusk 3 July, 2010 at 2:07 pm #

    > US Aerospace is looking at both Pratt & Whitney enginers, either those or General Electrics. We’ll also make that decision on Monday. We’re leaning towards GE.

    O . . . M . . . G

    can someone PLEASE contact Antonov directly and get their response?

  2. irtusk 3 July, 2010 at 2:31 pm #

    I know as a journalist it’s your duty to just report the news, but at some point you need to sit the poor sap down and explain to him that he’s being scammed.

  3. irtusk 3 July, 2010 at 11:51 pm #

    > JOHN KIRKLAND, a Los Angeles-based attorney for U.S. Aerospace, told Reuters the team would offer the Pentagon a “dramatically” lower price for a far more capable plane.

    how did this guy ever pass the bar?

    Either he’s monumentally stupid to fall for the same scam TWICE

    Or he’s monumentally stupid to think we’ll take him seriously a second time.

    Either way, he needs to be disbarred

  4. Dave Collins 4 July, 2010 at 3:36 am #

    Richard Aboulafia’s verdict that the Antonov-based KC-X proposal is “dumb beyond belief” and a “complete waste of time”

    Here, I believe you heard him wrong. Richard was talking about himself.

    But actually I find it refreshing to see a new bidder that has not yet been able to stuff the pockets of lobbyists and decision makers full of pretty green bills.

  5. Christopher Dye 5 July, 2010 at 12:24 pm #

    Steve – Could you or someone else please explain to me why it is so expensive for Boeing and Airbus to convert their planes to tankers when Omega, the commercial re-fueler, the Dutch, the Israelis, and the RAF to name just a few, seem to have no trouble doing it to DC-10s, 767s and Tri Stars respectively? And, what did it cost the USAF to convert DC-10s? I do not recall any hullaballoo about pricing, but I am sure Douglas gouged the AF as best they could.

  6. Peter 5 July, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

    I’m not at all sure that a KC-X submission from US Aerospace and Antonov will fly – at least, not in the very short time available to them to prepare their bid. After all, the An-124 has never served as a tanker (as far as I know), and the proposed An-122 and An-112 haven’t even been designed, much less flown.

    On the other hand, the proposed An-122 might be a winner as a freighter, if it can be developed to production status. With two engines such as the GE90-115B (as used on the Boeing 777-300ER), it could have a 10%+ increase in thrust and a 10%-15% improvement in fuel economy (and, consequently, range). That would be a relatively minor change compared to a clean-sheet design, and would give C-5-class or An-124-class payload and performance. There’s nothing in the world in production at that level right now; and if Antonov can price the An-122 competitively with the C-17 (which shouldn’t be too difficult), it might be a very attractive aircraft to a considerable number of potential purchasers, both civil and military.

    I’ve written about the possibilities for the An-122 in greater detail on my blog:

    Short URL:

    Long URL:

  7. Gilles 5 July, 2010 at 3:27 pm #

    Chuck Arnold clearly said that the An-112 will be the number one player in he competition and that this particular aircraft is not based on the An-124.

    The author suggested that the An-112 is based on the An-12 but Mr Arnold was vague in his reply. The An-12 has not been in production in Ukraine or Russia since the early 1970s and is an airframe very similar to the C-130 Hercules in size.

    Could the An-112 be based on the An-70? It would make much more sense. A jet powered An-70 could be close to the B-767-200ER as far as MTOW. It would reassemble the tanker version of A-400M.

  8. Nicolas 6 July, 2010 at 12:47 am #

    It’s monday !!! Need more details !!!

  9. Pete 6 July, 2010 at 2:42 pm #

    Kudos to Antonov for having the cahones to throw their hat in the ring at this stage of the process. They’ll be the only non-corrupt bidder in the competition! Aboulafia’s comments have just completely sunk his credibility though, what he clearly doesn’t realize is that this KC-X outside bet isn’t a serious effort at winning the USAF as a customer for Antonov, but a genial marketing effort to foriegn airforces with the Farnborough airshow just around the corner. Absolutely brilliant, I wish them the best of luck too! I can’t wait to see the new all-american F-22s sipping Ukrainian Vodka straight from the Antonov tanker! :D
    The real market for this airplane is not the US folks, this is just for publicity, and look it’s working!

  10. Jetcal1 6 July, 2010 at 2:46 pm #

    Although it seems to be a little oversized for this competition, I say let them bid;
    1. It might be technically competent
    2. It might be less expensive
    3. It might wake up Boeing and EADs
    4. It will be fun to watch
    And, most imprtantly it is supposed to be an open competition.

  11. adamk 6 July, 2010 at 6:37 pm #

    I agree with industry sage Richard that the chances of this new JV flying (no pun intended) in the KC-X competition is miniscule, due to all the reasons stated above and more. However, the publicity should help business development for US Aerospace and Antonov, or at least lead to a rather impressive book of press clippings. On a related note, this does give the “Build Them Both” people (who have been remarkably silent since March) the opportunity to re-brand themselves as “Build Them All” or “Build All Three” or perhaps just “Build Something Already.”

  12. coastal 7 July, 2010 at 12:24 am #

    Antonov will make airframes only… They promises to be really robust and stable and it seems they can use unpaved airfields. Check out An-225 U-turn:

    Agree that An-70 is best flying tanker with very short takeoff and landing:

  13. Watch stargate Atlantis online free 14 July, 2010 at 6:18 pm #

    Great post!

  14. Howard 14 July, 2010 at 9:48 pm #

    A good question to ask them would have been how they feel about the recent round of sanctions placed on Iran, and how that will affect the Antonov Joint Venture with HESA. Also how they think that JV will affect the bid with the US Air Force, considering the prohibition against doing business with Iran.

  15. telephone recording device 23 July, 2010 at 11:35 am #

    Good post, thanks

  16. Cordless Radar Detectors 23 July, 2010 at 10:19 pm #

    No matter how often a pitcher goes to the water it is broken in the end.

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