Double Up

Rebecca Grant, director of the Mitchell Institute for Airpower Studies, said yesterday that a simultaneous “dual buy” of two commercial tanker aircraft—now “on the table” in Congress—would be more affordable than the Defense Department suggests. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been steadfastly opposed to the idea of buying new tankers from more than one supplier, calling it “bad public policy,” “bad acquisition policy,” and a “bad deal” for taxpayers. Last month, he even claimed that such an approach would hike tanker recapitalization costs by $7 billion to $14 billion in just the next five years. Grant, however, speaking in Arlington, Va., at the rollout of the Mitchell Institute’s new paper, The Tanker Imperative, sees it differently. A dual buy, she said, would allow for the retirement of cost-intensive KC-135s faster and avoid a massive re-skinning of that fleet circa 2018. “A prompt tanker buy,” she continued, “hedges against a KC-135 [fleet-grounding] failure.” Grant distinguished between a dual buy, one that would produce more tankers faster, and a “split buy,” in which two companies would each compete to build a smaller share of aircraft, calling the latter approach inherently inefficient and wasteful. A dual-build would enhance price competition and offers more options for replacement of other widebody types, such as AWACS or RC-135, she noted.