Enquiring Minds Want to Know

The Air Force has some explaining to do, contends Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute. In a May 28 release, Thompson argues that USAF has yet to answer “even the most basic questions” as to why it chose Northrop Grumman’s tanker aircraft over Boeing’s design in February to be the replacement for its aged KC-135s. As things stand right now, the decision process “definitely was not transparent,” he states. “At present, it looks like a double standard prevailed in the evaluation of the planes offered by the two teams,” he writes. Regardless of how the Government Accountability rules next month on Boeing’s legal protest of the tanker decision, Thompson lists four main points—although he notes that there are more—that require clarification: 1) How the Air Force can claim it would cost roughly the same to procure and operate a fleet of the larger Northrop tankers as it would the smaller Boeing model; 2) how Boeing’s developmental risk can be gauged equal to that of Northrop when the former would use an existing production line to build its tanker and the latter hasn’t even built its assembly facility yet; 3) why “unrealistic assumptions” entered into the computerized evaluation of how each tanker design would operate in a wartime scenario; and 4) how Northrop-EADS could be rated higher on past performance when this team has never delivered a tanker with the refueling boom that USAF requires, while Boeing has already supplied hundreds of such tanker aircraft. Northrop has refuted claims that its tanker isn’t the best solution and the best value for the nation.