Tanker bidders coy on alternate types

Washington DC
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GRAHAM WARWICK / WASHINGTON DC

KC-767 and KC-30 twinjets remain primary proposals

Boeing and Northrop Grumman are refusing to be drawn on whether they will offer alternatives to their respective KC-767 and Airbus A330-based KC-30 when they respond to the US Air Force’s tanker request for information (RFI), which is expected to be released this week.

There has been speculation that Boeing could be forced to offer a derivative of its larger 777 – despite having spent $1 billion in developing the KC-767 – after the USAF’s analysis of alternatives concluded the KC-X requirement would be best met by “medium to large” commercial-derivative aircraft and identified the 747, 777 and 787, as well as the A340, as additional candidates.

Both companies say they are waiting to see the USAF’s final requirements, but will offer the solution that best fits. “We are sticking with the 767, but the 777 is a real possibility,” says a Boeing source. “We feel the KC-30 meets the requirements well as we currently understand them,” says Northrop. The KC-30 is larger than the KC-767.

The RFI will seek information on available tanker options, but no other major contenders are expected. A draft KC-X requirements document will be released late in the third quarter, with a draft request for proposals (RFP) to follow by the end of the year. A final RFP is expected in January 2007, leading to contract award in the third quarter. The USAF plans to buy three tankers in fiscal year 2008, seven in 2009, eight in 2010 and 12 in 2011.

Boeing, meanwhile, is believed to be close to joining the L-3 Communications/Alenia Aeronautica team offering the C-27J to meet the US Army and Air Force Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) requirement. Boeing’s role, and where the C-27J would be assembled, have yet to be finalised. The L-3/Alenia team has shortlisted four potential sites, and will announce its selection before JCA proposals are submitted on 17 May.

Although considered unlikely to bid for KC-X, Lockheed Martin looks set to offer a variant of its C-130J for the JCA competition. “We have completed our review of the RFP and continue to consider options as to a proposal submittal,” the company says. EADS Casa has teamed with Raytheon to offer the CN-235 and C-295. Contract award is due in December.