If the Air Force had to accept a split-buy (see above), it would only affect cash flow and not represent a fundamental shift in the program, Air Mobility Command chief, Gen. Arthur Lichte, said yesterday. The service plans to buy new tankers in three batches: KC-X, followed by KC-Y, and finally KC-Z. If the Air Force were obliged to buy both Boeing and Northrop Grumman’s airplanes at a rate of 15 a year from each company, it would actually mean accelerating the KC-Y buy, not doubling up the size of the program, Lichte explained. “I’m not adding anything new, but the way the dollars are laid in, they’re laid in more in the near-years than the out-years,” he said. If done that way, it would also sharply lessen the cost of carrying antique KC-135R tankers even further past their sensible retirement dates and put many more new tankers in the hands of aircrews much faster. “I’d be happy with that; I’d be very happy with that,” Lichte said. “But realistically, I’ve got to balance the budget as well, and that’s where I struggle and wring my hands about a split-buy.” Buying both tankers—but at 15 per year total, with seven or eight from each company—would be extravagantly wasteful, the Air Force has maintained, and would eliminate any savings from competition due to the extremely small production lots. “The short answer,” Lichte asserted, “is if I get the money to do a split-buy, I’ll gladly do that. … If you want to give me two tankers instead of one, I guess I’m twice as happy.”
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