Protest on the Tanker Award

Boeing has decided to protest the KC-X tanker award to rival Northrop Grumman, issuing a press release late Monday citing “serious flaws in the process.” The company came out swinging earlier Monday, saying in a two-page paper that it submitted “a strong and extremely competitive proposal” and remains concerned how USAF conducted the evaluation. Using data from the March 7 debrief from USAF, the company said its KC-767 tanker proposal scored “exceptional” and “low risk” in mission capability, met or exceeded all key performance parameters, and had “significantly more strengths (discriminators)” than rival Northrop Grumman’s KC-30 bid in this area. Boeing said its proposal risk was also rated “low.” But “surprisingly,” so, too, was Northrop Grumman’s despite what Boeing characterized as “high risk associated with its evolving multi-country, multi-facility, multi-build approach” compared to Boeing’s own “integrated and lean build approach.” Boeing’s past performance was rated “satisfactory,” as was Northrop’s, although European aircraft maker Airbus, the latter’s KC-30 partner, has “no relevant tanker experience and having never delivered a tanker with a refueling boom.” The Air Force deemed Boeing’s most probable life cycle cost as “reasonable,” “balanced,” and meeting realism criteria, all representing the highest ratings a competitor can receive, the company said. The results of the final selection criterion, the integrated assessment of fleet effectiveness, are “inconsistent and unrepeatable” and the assessment itself is of “questionable” operational relevance for several reasons, Boeing said. They include the fact that Northrop Grumman had an inherent advantage since it developed the assessment model. Also, changes were made to the model before and after the release of the request for proposals that allowed a larger aircraft like the KC-30 to compete. “In the end,” Boeing said, the Air Force selected “a larger, more expensive and operationally limited KC-30 tanker.” Jim McNerney, Boeing’s chairman, president, and CEO, said making the protest “is an extraordinary step rarely taken by our company, and one we take very seriously.”