US DoD cancels troubled KC-X tanker contest

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The US Department of Defense is cancelling the KC-X contest, which is aimed at procuring new air-to-air refuelling tankers for the US Air Force, because it will not be able to complete the process before a new presidential administration takes over in January.

The DoD says that defence secretary Robert Gates decided that "rather than hand the next administration an incomplete and possibly contested process... the best course of action is to provide the next administration with full flexibility regarding the requirements, evaluation criteria and the appropriate allocation of defence budget to this mission".

The air force originally selected Northrop Grumman's offer of Airbus A330-based KC-45 tankers, but the decision was successfully challenged by Boeing, proposing its KC-767, in an appeal to the US Government Accountability Office.

"Over the past seven years the process has become enormously complex and emotional - in no small part because of mistakes and missteps along the way by the Department of Defense," says Gates. "It is my judgment that in the time remaining to us, we can no longer complete a competition that would be viewed as fair and objective in this highly charged environment.

"The resulting 'cooling off' period will allow the next administration to review objectively the military requirements and craft a new acquisition strategy for the KC-X," he adds.

The DoD says it is confident that the USAF's ageing Boeing KC-135 fleet can be maintained in service "for the near future", subject to sufficient funding being made available.