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The U.S. Air Force may keep industry waiting just a while longer than first expected concerning this year's biggest defense program competition, the KC-X tanker.At one point, November 12 was considered the likely award date for the more than $35 billion, 179 aircraft program to kick off the KC-135 replacement effort -- Boeing is in the hunt with its KC-767 and EADS with its Airbus A330-based KC-30. Even a few weeks ago, that date appeared to be slipping toward the end of the month. The question now is whether the delay will be even greater. Industry officials on both sides note they have been surprised by the amount of questions the service has asked about their proposals -- the dialogue began in August. Just sorting through the answers, some of them lengthy, is likely to take a while, they note, dimming hopes of an imminent announcement.It is not unusual for source selection authorities to raise points of clarification at this stage in the competitive process. That there are this many questions is perhaps surprising, though, given the meticulous pass/fail process the request for proposal spelled out to avoid ambiguities.However, possibly owing to concern about another GAO protest from the losing bidder, the Pentagon seems to be particularly thorough in trying to guarantee there are no misunderstandings. The risk, of course, is that there is something in the correspondence that could give rise to another protest. The KC-X is certainly not the only big program award still due out of the Pentagon this year. The Littoral Combat Ship competitive process also is expected to be completed, although there, too, delays have set in. General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin are the two rival prime contractors.
ar99, KC-X, Boeing, EADS, USAF
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