Boeing has decided to protest award of the US Air Force's KC-X replacement tanker contract to Northrop Grumman and Airbus parent EADS.

The US company says it has serious concerns with the way the USAF evaluated the cost and risk of its bid, and with the use of a Northrop-developed analytical model to assess the effectiveness of its KC-767 tanker.

“Our team has taken a very close look at the tanker decision and found serious flaws in the process that we believe warrant appeal,” says Boeing chief executive officer Jim McNerney in a statement. 

Boeing says it will provide details of its case on Tuesday, 11 March when it files the formal protest with the Government Accountability Office, which will then have 100 days to make its ruling.

Northrop Grumman and EADS North America, meanwhile, will be forced to stop work under its initial $1.5 billion US Air Force contract to produce four Airbus A330-based KC-45A test aircraft.

Northrop's KC-45A                                           © Northrop Grumman

Northrop was awarded the 179-aircraft, $35 billion KC-X programme on 29 February in a decision that stunned both the winner and the loser. A protest had been widely predicted whichever company won.

After being debriefed by the US Air Force on 7 March, Boeing says it believes the Northrop/EADS plan to assemble and complete the A330-based tankers in the USA should have been assessed as greater risk than Boeing's intent to build its tanker "in line" on the commercial 767 assembly line.

The company also believes adjustments made by the US Air Force to the "significantly lower" life-cycle cost estimate that it submitted "effectively deprived Boeing of the benefits associated with its integrated in-line production approach".

USAF KC-767 with F-22
Boeing's KC-767AT                                                        © Boeing

Boeing also disputes the USAF's assessment of the Northrop/EADS team's past performance as satisfactory arguing that relevant Airbus programmes - Australia's KC-30B tanker and the A400M airlifter - "are struggling".

Additionally, Boeing argues an analytical model used by the US Air Force to assess the fleet effectiveness of the rival tankers was developed by Northrop, and changes to the model "before and after RFP release" allowed a larger aircraft to compete.

Northrop was debriefed on 10 March. "According to the Air Force, Northrop Grumman's KC-45A was selected because it is more advantageous to the government in the key areas of mission capability, past performance, cost/price, and integrated fleet aerial refueling assessment," says Paul Meyer, KC-45A programme manager.