Tanker Timeline

The Air Force will present a range of options to the new Administration on how to proceed with a revamped tanker competition, but it’ll be at least a year until a new award is made, Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said in an interview Dec. 22. The Air Force is looking at options that range from “best price” to “best value” as the determining factor, but, in any case, requirements will be whittled down significantly from the 800 in the first go-around of the KC-X competition, he said. (Just last month, Pentagon weapons czar John Young called for the Air Force to get down to a minimum set of requirements, saying, “We cannot have 800 tradable requirements again.”) Schwartz said a “cold start” involving start-from-scratch requirements and a new analysis of alternatives could take three to four years, while using contractor data already on hand could shorten the solicitation process to eight to 12 months, with an award two months later. It’s his wish to get the process done “relatively quickly” because the existing tankers aren’t getting any younger. That means buying only “what’s essential,” Schwartz said. He also hopes that Boeing and Northrop Grumman will give the service and the new Administration time to think the process through, but acknowledged that executives of both companies are already stumping for approaches that will favor their own airplanes. Indeed, earlier this month, Boeing chief executive officer James Albaugh came out publicly in favor of the lowest cost solution as the deciding factor. At around the same time, Ronald Sugar, Northrop CEO, urged that the upcoming competition be decided on a best-value basis.