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Airbus trumps Boeing as Northrop wins KC-X contract

Airbus has won a Northrop Grumman-backed bid to supply 179 tankers to the US Air Force in a massive defeat for incumbent supplier Boeing.

The selection of the Northrop/EADS North America KC-30 - to be renamed KC-45A - for the potentially $35 billion deal is expected to draw heavy opposition from US lawmakers.

Northrop’s team, which includes engine supplier General Electric, campaigned for three years focusing on strengths of the larger and more modern Airbus A330-200 passenger aircraft (artist's impression of KC-45 below).

© Northrop Grumman

“Northrop Grumman clearly provided the better value to the government when you take a look at the … five factors that were important to this decision,” said Sue Payton, assistant secretary of the air force for acquisition.

Payton listed the top three factors as mission capability, proposal risk and past performance, followed by cost/price and an integrated aerial refuelling assessment.

Northrop’s bid offered a “great advantage” to the air force on the cost/price factor, and scored “excellent” marks for past performance.

The USAF is buying the first 68 tankers, including four test aircraft, for a total sum of $12.1 billion, or at an average price for each aircraft of $178 million.

Payton refused to answer questions about why Boeing’s bid was not selected. “I think I owe it to Boeing to discuss the elements of our decision first,” she said.

Airbus will build the A330-200 sections in Europe and ship the components to the US. A new factory in Mobile, Alabama will perform final assembly before moving to a nearby Northrop facility to install mission equipment.

EADS also plans to manufacture the Casa-designed refuelling boom for the KC-45 (pictured below on an A310 testbed) in Bridgeport, West Virginia.

© Northrop Grumman

EADS was hoping the KC-X contest would bring the European manufacturer a major programme win in the US defence market after its C-295 light transport lose to Alenia’s C-27J in the US Army/Air Force Joint Cargo Aircraft competition.

Boeing offered the USAF a tanker version of a new derivative called the 767-200 Long Range Freighter (LRF). The aircraft combined elements of four different 767 designs, using the -200 fuselage as the platform.

Boeing has a right to appeal the USAF decision. A protest can be filed with the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) within 10 days after the USAF debriefs the Boeing team about the reasons for its decision. GAO is committed to issuing a judgment on the protest within 100 days.

“Once we have reviewed the details behind the award,” Boeing said, “we will make a decision concerning our possible options, keeping in mind at all times the impact to the warfighter and our nation."


AirSpace discussion

Related blogs

The Dew Line - KC-X archived blogs 


Flightblogger - Tanker decision imminent


Unusual Attitude - Least persuasive KC-X tanker argument to date


The Woracle - entries tagged with "KC-X"



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