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Boeing to stick with KC-767 for US tanker recompete

Boeing will arrive at the Farnborough air show with a partially new identity and a renewed confidence that its KC-767 design can win the US Air Force’s controversial KC-X tanker competition.

The company – which last week learned that its appeal into the USAF’s selection of the Airbus A330-based Northrop Grumman/EADS North America KC-30 had resulted in the deal’s abandonment – is currently “digesting comments and feedback” from a closed hearing on 10 July, says Chris Chadwick, president of the newly rebranded Boeing Military Aircraft.

Speaking at the Royal International Air Tattoo at Royal Air Force base Fairford, Gloucestershire on 11 July, Chadwick says a fresh KC-X contest will open with a draft request for proposals, and added: “we’re very optimistic of moving forward quickly.”

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Although USAF officials highlighted the KC-30’s larger size than the KC-767 in making their original selection – a process which the US General Accountability Office subsequently ruled was severely flawed – Chadwick says: “I’m not convinced yet that they do want a bigger airplane. I think the next RFP will define whether they want a big airplane of not.” Operating a larger aircraft would mean higher life cycle costs, more fuel consumption and limited basing options, he claims.

“If the RFP is modified substantially we’ll have to bring it in, look at it and decide how to go forward,” says Chadwick, who adds: “we do have options”. Boeing has conducted previous design studies on a KC-777 tanker, which would be larger than the KC-30.

Dave Bowman, a former head of Boeing’s C-17 strategic transport programme and global mobility activities, is also to head the company’s new tanker activities. “He understands the air force,” says Chadwick, who adds that the appointment will provide “a new face as we push forward trying to win the recompete.”

Boeing Military Aircraft is the new name for the company’s former Precision Engagement and Mobility Systems business unit, following a rebranding completed early this month. “We wanted to send a statement that the aircraft business is an extremely important part of our company today and in the future,” says Chadwick.

Boeing and rival bidders Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky will meanwhile submit final proposals for the USAF’s CSAR-X combat search-and-rescue helicopter requirement during August, with the previous selection of Boeing’s HH-47 Chinook having also been derailed by a series of GAO protests. “We still hope for an award within the end of the year,” says Chadwick.

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