USA to delay release of KC-X tanker request

Washington DC
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The US Department of Defense has told both teams bidding for its air force's KC-X tanker contract that a draft request for proposals has been delayed until about the fourth quarter of this year.

The delay means Boeing and a Northrop Grumman/EADS North America team must wait at least a month longer to view the DoD's plans for the competition, and exposes the solicitation process to direct intervention by the US Congress appropriations committees.

usaf kc-135 
 © USAF
The USAF has been trying to replace its oldest Boeing KC-135E/R tankers

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates initially planned to release the draft RFP in late July or early August, with a contract award scheduled by year-end. But planning has been set back by an extremely cautious process for making decisions. Gates has not yet decided even which agency will lead the competitive phase - the US Air Force or Ashton Carter, under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

"He's heard some arguments as to who should lead that effort, but he has not yet made a final decision," the Pentagon said on 15 July.

The schedule has slipped because "everybody wants to be extraordinarily cautious about how we proceed in order to make sure we get it right", says the DoD. "It's too necessary for our air force for us not to get it right this time."

The USAF has been trying since 2001 to buy or lease new aircraft to replace its oldest Boeing KC-135E/R tankers (R-model tanker pictured below). An initial attempt to lease 100 KC-767As ended in acquisition scandal, and a contract award to the Northrop team in February 2008 for the Airbus A330-based KC-30 was overturned on technical grounds by the Government Accountability Office four months later.

 
© abenjamin gallery on flightglobal.com/AirSpace

The Northrop team again plans to offer a tanker based on the A330-200, but Boeing is waiting to see the draft RFP before it decides to commit to a new tanker variant of the 767 or 777.