EADS North America's top executive says recent disclosures by Boeing show the KC-767 was "dumbed-down" to win the US Air Force KC-X contract, potentially opening the door for KC-45 sales in the future.

Sean O'Keefe, EADS NA chief executive, declined in an interview to admonish Boeing for his competitor's recent acknowledgement that marketing materials advertising a KC-767 with fuel-saving winglets throughout the competition were false.

"I'm not going to pass judgement on anybody's marketing strategy or any competitor's veracity," O'Keefe said. "I wouldn't do that."

But the absence of winglets from the production configuration of the KC-767, which has been redesignated the KC-46A by the US Air Force, offer a clue about Boeing's winning strategy, O'Keefe says.

"You can do this by extension," O'Keefe says. "The only room for margin between the capacity of what you could do today [with the KC-767] and what [Boeing] is offering is to dumb-down the capabilities. As long as you don't go below the capabilities you're able to produce today, you're compliant. As every unfolding chapter is telling us, this is precisely how [Boeing] unfolded their strategy."

O'Keefe does not fault Boeing for removing the winglets or "dumbing-down" the KC-767 configuration to win the contract.

"[The Boeing KC-46A] really is going to be a KC-135 replacement," O'Keefe says. "There's no reason to be shocked by that. That's what [the air force] said they wanted and that's what they got delivered."

But EADS perceives an opportunity for a larger tanker in the USAF inventory.

"That now opens up the opportunity to say, 'What about [the requirement for delivering maximum] fuel at range and all these other things," O'Keefe says.

"That's a requirement that may or may not drive [the launch] of KC-Y, but it's certainly is a higher prospect today than it might have been before," O'Keefe says, adding, "and particularly as each chapter unfolds we start seeing more and more what the KC-46A is going to look like. My goodness, it looks more like a KC-135 than anything else -- again, just like the air force asked for. There is nothing under-handed about that at all. That's precisely what they said they wanted."

Boeing did not respond directly to O'Keefe's comments about dumbing-down the KC-767 proposal, but provided a statement calling the KC-46A "the most advanced tanker ever built" and featuring "amazing multi-role capabilities".

Source: Flight International