As Boeing reportedly considers alternate platforms or withdrawal from the US Air Force's KC-X tanker competition, the Northrop Grumman/EADS North America team may also consider upgrading its tanker offer.
The US Department of Defense plans to release a final request for proposals during the last week of August, in defiance of Boeing's public requests for an extension period.
Boeing's chosen 767-200ERX platform is likely to be too small to compete against the KC-30B version of the A330-200 if fuel offload capacity remains a key evaluation criteria.
Northrop, meanwhile, now refuses to rule out the option of switching to a different platform when it submits its proposal in early October. "We'll consider all of the options that are available to us and we'll propose the platform that best meets the customer's requirements," it says.
The A330-200 was selected for the competition in 2006 because Airbus had not yet launched the A330-200 Freighter. Northrop instead proposed to deliver the A330 passenger model, convert it into a freighter and then further modify the aircraft as a tanker. Switching to the pure freighter model, which was launched last year, is likely to be more efficient.
Previously, Northrop tanker vice-president Paul Meyer told Flight International that his team would "inevitably" switch to the freighter if it won the original KC-X competition.
Northrop also plans to build new commercial freighters in Mobile, Alabama, if the KC-30B finally secures the tanker contract.
Israel is meanwhile to convert additional Boeing 707s into tankers to close the gap until the USAF fields a replacement for its oldest KC-135s. "The delayed [KC-X] selection process will result in the conversion of more 707s to the tanker role," confirms an Israeli source. The Israeli air force plans to use US foreign military financing to acquire the same tanker that will enter USAF service.