Boeing tanker gambit could force KC-X award delay

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The US Department of Defense's goal to avoid further delays and award the KC-X tanker contract before year-end faces a key new challenge.

Although Boeing had the option to boycott the revived competition, the company has instead chosen a strategy that may force the DoD to extend the deadline for revised proposals.

Boeing has hinted that it may propose a larger aircraft than the 767-200ERX offered in the original competition, saying it is looking at "configuration options" for its latest bid. Boeing's options include new tanker versions of the 767-400ER and the 777-200LR.

At the same time, Boeing officials also complain about the quickness of the DoD's schedule for the second round of bids, which includes a one-week review period for the draft request for proposals that ended on 15 August, and a 45-day turnaround for the final proposal due by 1 October.

The DoD established the schedule to complete contract award before the Bush administration leaves office in late January. Even a slight delay during the evaluation period is likely to push contract award beyond that deadline.

kc-45 
 © USAF

Boeing is being forced to consider offering a larger aircraft to better compete with the Northrop KC-30B.

The US Air Force selected the KC-30B on the basis that it offered the most fuel offload capacity. After the Government Accountability Office overturned that decision for not complying with the terms of the USAF solicitation, DoD officials amended the request for proposals to award official credit for offering more fuel offload capacity.

Northrop's team is clearly approving of both the new evaluation criteria and schedule.

"We look forward to submitting our proposal within the timeline established by the defence department," the company says. "With the current fleet approaching the half-century mark in age, our men and women in uniform should not be asked to wait any longer."

Boeing considered offering the KC-777 in the first competition, but instead decided to propose the KC-767 after reviewing the USAF's evaluation terms.

Previously, Boeing executives had ruled out the 767-400ER because of concerns about tail-strike for the refuelling boom, but company executives have recently said this problem could be overcome.

Dave Bowman, Boeing's vice-president of tanker programmes, says the tail-strike issue can be resolved by requiring the aircraft to rotate on take-off at a shallower angle. The trade-off is a longer take-off roll, he adds.