Split Decision

If splitting the litigious KC-X aerial tanker program between Boeing and Northrop Grumman would break the gridlock on getting a new tanker, that would be an acceptable—if “troublesome”—solution to the problem, Gen. Arthur Lichte, Air Mobility Command chief, said yesterday. “I’m not really in favor of it, because it will cost more money,” Lichte told Washington, D.C.-based defense reporters at a breakfast meeting Sept. 3. Buying two airplanes would require “two logistics lines that we’ll have to maintain” as well as “two different types of training for the aircrews,” Lichte said. As recently as last fall, the Air Force pegged the cost of setting up a dual tanker program at around $2 billion to $4 billion, not including separate logistics funding. However, Lichte said, “If you were to tell me that’s the only way we’re going to get out of this predicament, then sign me up.” In his view, both tankers are “outstanding” and he would “be happy with either one.” The Pentagon expects to issue a final request for proposals sometime before the end of next week. Lichte expects to see fresh protests, further delaying the program, which, he said, has become even more time urgent with the withdrawal of the KC-135E from service due to age issues.