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KC-X, Just Let it Happen Already

A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker is Fueled Up Prior to a Mission

People have been speculating for months what impact a Republican takeover in Congress might mean for the KC-X competition. With last night’s Republican takeover of the House of Representatives and a KC-X contract due in the near future I thought I’d ask a few analysts who’ve been watching the contest for years to chime in with their latest.

First up is Teal Group aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia who points out that the Republican takeover might embolden outgoing House Appropriations defense subcommittee chairman Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., in his pro-Boeing fights since he won’t hold the powerful chairmanship — which I’ve heard some speculate caused him to rein in his blatant support for Boeing – much longer.

“Dicks never did much to disguise his pro-Boeing intentions and  he may get even more pro-Boeing,” Aboulafia said.  “But I’m not sure that matters much now” that he’s going to lose his chairmanship. “There’s always the chance that the politicians on both sides agree to step out of the way and abide by the Air Force’s choice, but given the history here, but what are the odds that will happen?  And since neither side has a lock on governmental power, this election paves the way for more KC-X gridlock.”

Meanwhile, Lexington Institute analyst Loren Thompson — who has been pro-Boeing in the latest KC-X fight — says that Dicks’ loss of the chairmanship will hurt the Chicago-based company. 

“It appears that Boeing’s political position has been eroded somewhat by the election while that of EADS has been strengthened,” Thompson said. While “there won’t be any immediate impact on the tanker competition” as a result of the elections, “political influence could be decisive in the days after a winner is chosen.”

Iris Independent Research’s Rebecca Grant, who last month released a study on KC-X that seemed to favor a larger jet with more fuel offload capacity (sound like EADS’ KC-45, anyone?), expects “a tussle between key defense Republicans on the House side.”

Rep. Todd  Tiahrt, R-Kan., “came on strong for a U.S. plane with U.S. jobs, while presumptive HASC Chair, Buck McKeon [R-Calif.] has been all about running a fair competition,” Grant said. 

“The real questions is whether Dem or GOP members would try to end-run an award to EADS,” Grant added. “For example, DoD has ruled out considering the twin World Trade Organization cases in its evaluation of KC-X bids. Could Congress pass a law demanding exploration of price subsidy allegations?  Or pass a law barring a “foreign” prime [bidder] contrary to Secretary Gates’ and President Obama’s stance welcoming open competition?”

I think that latter one will be tough considering that it’s EADS’ North American division, complete with a Special Security Agreement with the U.S. government, who is technically the prime contractor for the KC-45 bid. However, Grant may have a point with regards to legislation being aimed at the WTO subsidies cases. For months now, Boeing allies in Congress have been working to introduce laws that would require the DoD to factor in subsidies EADS receives from European governments into the price of the tanker. 

Still, “all these sound far-fetched despite emotions running high at times on KC-X,” Grant admits. “Altering the KC-X competition now or blocking an award to EADS if that happens would take a lot of energy from a new House Republican majority focused on bigger issues.”

– John Reed

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Cunninglinguine November 3, 2010 at 6:30 pm

A takeover of the House of Representatives does not equate to a takeover of Congress, as the House is only one part of the whole.

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Cole November 3, 2010 at 7:29 pm

Hate to sound like a broken record. but defensenews.com is saying they may buy both versions of LCS. Given the cost of those ships, a similar move to buy both KC-X types makes sense. We cannot match low foreign pay for manufacturing many commercial goods, but we can build big ticket defense items like the LCS, F-35, and KC-X and sell them to the rest of the world. Talk about a stimulus creating long-term jobs…and KC-X translates to commercial aircraft as well.

Had trouble with the Rebecca Grant article because it seemed like the RFP did not consider additional fuel and cargo payload (against all logic given emerging Pacific theater threats preventing forward basing) unless the bids were within 1%. It will be interesting…

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Howe November 3, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Just pick the best F*ckin tanker already! Who cares who controls congress…its a TANKER, whoopadeedoo!

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BozoJoe November 3, 2010 at 8:28 pm

Hey I heard noise in here. Is there a party happening? Where's the beer?

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Cole November 3, 2010 at 8:36 pm

It's up my nose after reading your comment. Well not true since I don't drink…yes, that's right, I can write this drivel completely sober.

It's more than a tanker. It's key to the AirSea Battle strategy. It's key to serving as a substitute for C-17s that have used up too much of their airframe lifespan in current wars moving cargo and troops that a KC-X could have moved.

It's key to a strategy of using the bigger KC-30 aircraft to move more fuel over typical longer Pacific distances, filling up a few aircraft and then transferring the rest to a lower fuel burn KC-767 that stays on station.

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blight November 3, 2010 at 9:48 pm

That assumes "best" is an easy-to-pick parameter. Is best the biggest, trading size for perhaps speed, range, RCS or airframe life? Did you forfeit the ability to land on short airstrips? Do you need that capability in the first place? What kind of engines are going into the airframe? Can it be upgraded easily? Is it a proven airframe? Does it use common parts that are easily available across the globe? Is there parts commonality with something else in the fleet?

This ignores the political constraints of…is there a factory in my district? And the generals…can I get a job there later when I retire?

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Jacob November 3, 2010 at 11:12 pm

Well the USAF already picked the Northrop design the first time around, which either means that it fit their parameters better….or that there was foul play. And now Northrop is calling foul on the second competition.

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Moose November 3, 2010 at 11:25 pm

The GAO said foul play, hence the second go-round.

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A. Nonymous November 4, 2010 at 9:47 am

Actually, the USAF picked the Boeing design the first time around. They picked the Northrop/Airbus design the second time around. Since the USAF seems to choose a new plane each competition, maybe Embraer and Bombardier should have also bid this time.

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Curt November 4, 2010 at 10:57 am

The GAO found that the USAF did not use the selection criteria from the RFP solicitation in deciding the winner. They recommended that the USAF re-evaluate the two bids using the actual evaluation criteria. So no one "won" the competition.

Oblat November 4, 2010 at 7:45 am

>For months now, Boeing allies in Congress have been working to introduce laws that would require the DoD to factor in subsidies EADS receives from European governments into the price of the tanker.

This is just straight out corruption. The DoD should be welcoming the reduced cost of the EADS bid not forced to get less value for money. In fact Boeing should really be banned from the competition for illegal and corrupt practices.

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Curt November 4, 2010 at 10:59 am

So it is illegal or somehow immoral tio complain about illegal activity by your competitor? What rock did you crawl out from under?

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Oblat November 4, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Typical military socialist can't see that it's corruption to rip off the American taxpayer.

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Picard November 4, 2010 at 8:31 am

So, soon we will see if the US aircrat industry can build a tanker for US forces or will America have to bow to Europe and face the fact that its aircraft industry can no longer support its own armed forces?

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Mitch S. November 4, 2010 at 9:56 am

At this rate the AF will end having to lease KC767s from Italy and Japan, and/or A330 tankers from Australia and the UK.
Maybe it would be quicker to rebuild the fleet into amphibians that could be refueled by ships and subs (an F35D?) !

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Ebbe November 4, 2010 at 11:29 am

Look on the bright side; we're really getting our money's worth out of our KC-135s.

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John Moore November 4, 2010 at 12:03 pm

200 million a day in india for a visit imagine how many tankers that could buy?

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Wildcard November 4, 2010 at 12:29 pm

India is up and coming… has money to burn… it pays to keep up foreign relations in the long run.

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John Moore November 4, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Agree but there has to be a price cap.

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Marvel November 4, 2010 at 2:09 pm

I am sorry to go off track, but where in the F did you get 200 million per day? I do not believe that for a second. Those figures are secret for a good reason. It definitely costs many millions per day to secure the president while his is abroad in a dangerous neighborhood, but 200 million? Please cite.

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John Moore November 4, 2010 at 2:39 pm

For those who dont get the time to read the news:
http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/34-warships-sen...

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praetorian November 4, 2010 at 3:43 pm

Obama is bringing 32 warships to India with him

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blight November 4, 2010 at 5:19 pm

If we had LCS…

Bush landed in Iraq with the element of surprise, but didn't stay very long. Two days is more than enough time to launch a pre-planned attack.

A carrier battlegroup and tons of SSGN's won't stop a 4GW terror attack. I am perplexed at the thirty-four warship number. It's possible they received info about a legitimate threat and escalated security rather than calling the thing off (which would be seen as "weak", am I right?)

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Rolo November 5, 2010 at 4:29 am

Sounds to me like NDTV could tell you anything and you would believe it…

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Rolo November 5, 2010 at 5:25 am

http://uk.news.yahoo.com/18/20101105/tod-no-penta...

Musson November 4, 2010 at 5:31 pm

Obama should tell the competitors to cut 20% off the price - by reducing the idiotic RFP requirements. A large part of the cost is for carrying non-flight personnel.

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