KC-X tanker rivals stake out positions

Washington DC
Source:
This story is sourced from Flight International
Subscribe today »

Both rivals for the US Air Force's revived KC-X tanker competition used the show to reveal the first public glimpses of their competitive strategies.

Back-flipping from their insistence in the previous round on only a 767-based solution, Boeing executives announced that they are considering any widebody aircraft and engine combination that the air force's requirements may prefer.

As the USAF prepares to release a draft request for proposals in the third quarter of this year, Boeing confirms it is studying even the General Electric GEnx engine family to power either any sort of 767 or a 777-200ER as part of its "KC-7A7" tanker evaluation.

"It's not about us," says Chris Raymond, Boeing's vice-president for business development. "It's about what [the USAF] decides to put in their requirements."

The service has meanwhile assured Boeing that it will give the company the time it needs to convert either the 767 or 777 into a tanker, says Dave Bowman, its vice-president for tanker programmes.

The Northrop Grumman/EADS North America team, by contrast, revealed itself as locked even more narrowly on the foundation of its initially successful previous proposal.

Even though the USAF's acquisition strategy is still undecided, Northrop has already declared the KC-30, based on an A330-200 passenger-to-freighter model powered by GE CF6-80s, will remain the basis of its new proposal.

Paul Meyer, Northrop vice-president and general manager for advanced programmes, confirms also that the A330-200F model has been ruled out, despite Airbus's commitment to build the freighter model in Mobile, Alabama if the KC-30 is selected.

According to Airbus, the pure A330-200F is at least 8-10t heavier than the baseline passenger model, which would require a corresponding decrease in fuel load in the tanker role. "The freighter didn't find itself being necessary," says Meyer. However, he says: "The biggest driver was the cost."

The Northrop team has also taken a hard-line stance on two key elements of the USAF's acquisition strategy. The air force should award credit for off-loading more fuel than the minimum threshold, says Meyer, and also not use price as an over-riding criteria for its contract award.

Northrop's decision to compete in the next round will not be based exclusively on whether the USAF's acquisition strategy accepts either or both conditions, he adds.