Tanker Press, Sort Of

Defense Secretary Robert Gates believes the Pentagon can get the Air Force’s KC-X tanker program restarted “by early spring” and have responses to a new request for proposals “soon after the first of next year.” That’s what he told the House Armed Services Committee on Jan. 27. His timetable matches that posited by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz late last year, if the service doesn’t have to start KC-X over from scratch. The Air Force has been working on a range of options to present the new Administration. Meanwhile, the two principal contractors—original winner Northrop Grumman and competitor Boeing—already are predicting a new round of challenges. The difficulty in producing a protest-free conclusion prompted Gates last fall to defer the KC-X until the new Administration. There may be only one fail-safe way to ensure a clean result and that is a split-buy, in which half of an increased production rate would go to Boeing and half to Northrop. It’s a move now favored by former Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne. However, Gates told the House defense authorizers Tuesday that he stands by his rejection of a split-buy. In his view, it is “an absolutely terrible idea and a very bad mistake for the US taxpayer, not to mention the US Air Force.” (Gates’ written testimony)