Rep. Gene Taylor (R-Miss.) says the U.S. Air Force should consider having the winner of the replacement tanker competition assembled in more than one location, to speed up the process of replacing the aging fleet.
The aging KC-135 tanker (Defense Dept. photo)
At a May 19 House Armed Services Committee (HASC) hearing on the Air Force Fiscal 2010 budget request, Taylor said he wasn’t suggesting a split buy in the long-delayed replacement tanker project, but splitting manufacturing locations to get the new aircraft up and flying before the Eisenhower-era KC-135 tankers are grounded by age.
Thanks, but no thanks, was the polite reply from Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, who noted that two manufacturing facilities would require a minimum economic order quantity to keep annual production costs effective. And that’s a problem whether it’s one source or two, said Donley.
Taylor, chairman of the HASC subcommittee that oversees the Navy and Marine Corps, noted the Navy has built two identical destroyers “which are very sophisticated warships, in two locations. So it’s not like it can’t be done.”
Donley agreed it could be done “but it’s much more expensive.” He said the current tanker plan is built around an annual buy of about 15 airplanes. “If we go to two locations, the minimum is viewed at about 12 per site – one per month. That would drive our annual procurement to 24 per year.” Donley said that would get more airplanes out quicker but “it drives up our annual cost significantly, by maybe 70 percent or so.”
Doing that year after year would “make a huge dent in our procurement plans going forward,” Donley said.
But Taylor countered that with many tankers 50 years old or more, the Air Force ought to explore the ramifications of getting more aircraft out at a faster rate.
Some observers, though, think comparing tanker and destroyer production is like comparing apples and oranges. What do you think?