KC-X competitor fires back at cost questions

Washington DC
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EADS North America's top executive has fired back at perceptions that the company's KC-45 would be the most expensive tanker to operate in a competition for the US Air Force's KC-X contract that may hinge on cost comparisons.

Three months before the scheduled contract award, EADS NA chairman Ralph Crosby has also carefully corrected a reporter's interpretation that he was complaining about the terms of the USAF's repeat round of the KC-X competition.

"It's only a complaint if I want to change it, and I'm not trying to change anything," Crosby says. "I'm not shooting at the air force [contract terms]. I accept that."

Crosby's real concern is that the company's industrial and political opponents will be allowed to claim that the most expensive aircraft in the competition won the contract if the company's Airbus A330-200-based offering is again selected.

 © Airbus Military

"I want [the reasons for our victory] to be understood when we win," Crosby says.

In Crosby's view, the KC-45 is more expensive than the rival Boeing KC-767 NewGen Tanker only if people incorrectly assess the true operating costs and relative risk of each contractor.

Although the KC-45 is a larger aircraft that burns more fuel, its larger payload volume delivers fuel more efficiently, he argues.

Crosby also describes how the KC-45's greater fuel capacity could be decisive, despite USAF officials having insisted that they are not willing to pay for it.

The offers submitted from both bidders will be adjusted based on a study called the integrated fleet aerial refuelling assessment. The adjusted price will include factors such as greater fuel efficiency at range, Crosby says.

Crosby is more critical about the USAF's decision to not make adjustments based on evaluated risk. He notes that in the previous competition, which the KC-45 won, the USAF added $3 billion to Boeing's submitted price tag for the KC-767 based on concerns about the risk of delays and cost overruns. There is no such mechanism in the current competition to adjust prices, he says.

"How do you measure certainty?" Crosby asks. "That the customer is going to get what he says he needs?"

The A330 multi-role tanker transport, the baseline for the KC-45 design, has demonstrated a 4,550 litres/min (1,200USgal/min) flow rate for its refuelling boom. Crosby notes this achievement is one sign that the KC-45 presents less risk than its competitor.

Crosby also countered questions about the risk of standing up a new final assembly plant in Mobile, Alabama by saying that any delays could be offset by extending the existing A330 tanker modification line in Spain.

"Let's say it takes an extra six months" to stand up the Mobile final assembly line, Crosby says. "We're already doing it in Spain."

Airbus Military has so far secured orders to modify the A330 as a tanker/transport for the air forces of Australia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the UK.