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Obama, lawmakers offer split views on KC-X strategy

Breaking with senior Democratic leaders in Congress, the Obama administration continues to insist on a winner-take-all strategy for the US Air Force's tanker replacement contract.

Secretary of Defense Bob Gates sharply criticised proposals in Congress to split the KC-X tanker purchase between the two duelling competitors - the Boeing KC-767 (below) and the Airbus A330-based Northrop Grumman/EADS North America KC-45.

 
© Boeing

"I think it's bad public policy and I think it's bad acquisition policy," Gates says. "It would require the air force to maintain two different logistics trains, two different kinds of training. Everything would have to be duplicated in the support structure, and I just think it's a bad deal for taxpayers."

However, Gates says he does not know the difference in cost between a winner-take-all and split-purchase strategy.

The Obama administration plans to unveil its fiscal year 2010 budget request in April. But asked if the White House has provided any direction about its plans for the controversial tanker purchase, Gates replied "no".

Sensing a political stalemate awaiting any single contract approach, two powerful lawmakers in the House of Representatives - Neil Abercrombie and John Murtha - have supported proposals to split the KC-X contract between the competitors.

Specifically, Murtha has called for doubling annual tanker purchases from 12 to 24 aircraft. A competition would be held each year, with the majority of aircraft awarded to the winner and the minority awarded to the loser.

 KC-45
© Northrop Grumman/EADS North America

Northrop's team won the KC-X contract last year with the KC-45 (above), but the award was overturned by the US Government Accountability Office due to procedural breakdowns by the air force.

Gates put the politically charged recompetition on hold last September. But after being reappointed by President Barack Obama, he inherited the need to make a decision about the programme's future.

The USAF plans to buy at least 100 KC-X tankers to replace the oldest of more than 400 Boeing KC-135s in its fleet.

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