"Do you really think we would put a [request for proposals] out on the streets that wasn't near-full-proof?" Gen Norton Schwartz, US Air Force Chief of Staff, was not smiling as he said this, so he did not appear to be joking. Journalists listening to this comment at Schwartz's press conference on 15 September might be excused a giggle, though.

But this is no longer a laughing matter. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a year after purging USAF leadership amid a crisis of competence, transferred authority for the second KC-X tanker contract competition back to the air force last week.

The USAF bungled the previous source selection process so badly the Government Accountability Office had eight different reasons to overturn its decision. The embarassment set back the tanker replacement plan several years and gave Congress a moral pretext to override decades of precedence in acquisition and directly intervene in the minutiae of a weapons system tender.

Frankly, the odds are against a successful outcome this time, with so much political and administrative meddling in an already-difficult process.

But that's no excuse for continued bad behaviour. The USAF must clarify its tanker requirements and communicate them clearly. Congress must immediately stop interfering in the selection process. After all, the need for new tankers is no joke.

Source: Flight International