To say 2010 is the year of the tanker is a no brainer. SOMETHING has to happen on KC-X. And, it probably will be seminal if for no other reason than the fact that this is one of the most-watched and most-repeatedly attempted Pentagon procurements in history.
Even if the program does follow a familiar course of mudslinging, mismanagement and protests, we will all be writing about it and the importance of it. And, we'll all be reading about it too!
According to the Pentagon press secretary there will be some forward motion ... soon. While it looks like the much-awaited final request for proposals (RFP) for the U.S. Air Force’s KC-X aerial refueling tanker contract has slipped … what is a couple of weeks after roughly eight years of work replacing KC-135s?
During yesterday’s news briefing, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said, “We are shooting to have the RFP out hopefully by the end of the month, if not early next month.” Earlier, officials were planning to release the RFP in late 2009, and that slipped until mid-January.
Morrell also said that “there will be changes to the draft.” Neither competitor – Boeing or a Northrop Grumman/EADS team – were pleased with the draft RFP issued last year. Complaints have been made by both camps on issues such as the use of a fixed-price contract for development of the aircraft, method for devising military construction and fuel costs and the metrics for weighing – or not (according to Northrop) -- the various features of the system.
Morrell says that “the team is in the process of correcting mistakes and altering the acquisition strategy a bit,” but he didn’t offer specifics.
Northrop Grumman has threatened not to bid for the work if the final RFP doesn’t provide the company’s Airbus A330-based option a better shot at a win. Meanwhile, a Boeing executive has indicated that the draft RFP points to a likely 767-based option (kind of a no-brainer).
But, make no mistake, Morrell says that “whatever changes are being made should not be construed as any attempt to favor anybody.” That would, after all, lead down the familiar dark path of a protest!
About the no-bid threat, Morrell simply notes that he hopes Northrop reconsiders its position and there is a lot of money to be made. “We need the best companies competing to provide the best plane in support of our operations.”
My own two cents is that this thing has got to come out before the U.S. budget release Feb. 1. Once budget is out, leadership won't likely want to shift to fight the tanker fight on Capitol Hill. And, if it gets released out in late January, Congress and the two companies can chew on it a few days and then will have to reposture to deal with the inevitable budget shifts that will be announced by DoD.
Of course this is tanker, and I can't say I've been right on this one all along ... so buckle up for the next round!