The U.S. Air Force will respond to a lawmaker’s inquiry on whether the Integrated Fleet Aerial Refueling Assessment (Ifara) can be eliminated from the service’s KC-X aerial refueling tanker competition, as well as comment on how important Ifara is to the award, an Air Force representative told the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) this morning.
Moreover, USAF will respond to a question about what options were considered to “level the playing field” after a data-release mistake last year, defense officials said during a wide-ranging and mostly theatrical hearing on the error. The 2.5-hr. hearing, which quickly became more contentious among senators than between the panel and the witnesses, follows the Nov. 1, 2010, incident and comes just weeks before the long-expected award announcement (Aerospace DAILY, Jan. 17).
Responses to these questions may become the most relevant outcome from the hearing and the mistake as Ifara, a model used to gauge how each aircraft will handle various operational scenarios, is important to the competition. The assessment is one of three areas that could impact the final price that the bidders can offer.
As reported by Aviation Week since the now-defunct 2008 attempt to award the KC-X program to a team of Northrop Grumman and EADS, Ifara was added to the KC-X competition after pressure from that team. Boeing proponents see Ifara as favoring the EADS proposal, which calls for a larger aircraft.
The witnesses were Maj. Gen. Wendy Masiello, program executive officer for combat and mission support in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition; and Steven Shirley, executive director of the Defense Department’s Cyber Crime Center. Neither official is involved in the KC-X competition, nor were they able to provide much comment on Air Force and Pentagon thinking over the data-release error.
In turn, most senators used the opportunity to try to advocate for Boeing or EADS, depending on the potential benefits to their states. Along the way, some legislators sought actual details on the data-release as well. For instance, Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.), the second-ranking Republican on the Democratic-controlled SASC, inquired about the role and importance of Ifara. The witnesses took the question for the record, meaning the Air Force and Pentagon officials are expected to provide answers later. “I believe we should know,” Inhofe said.
In the data-release, Air Force officials sent files containing interim Ifara information to the wrong industry teams. However, in an effort to level the playing field, USAF then released to both contractors the cover sheets outlining each bidder’s performance in the Ifara model so both sides now officially have the same information.
Positive, efficient performance in Ifara can work in a bidder’s favor, and a design Ifara deems ineffective can have the opposite result. The data were not a definitive score. But some industry officials contend that the mix-up gave each competitor an unplanned glimpse at the rival’s design.
According to Masiello and Shirley, whose lab provided highly regarded computer forensics analysis, defense officials had a high degree of confidence in understanding what happened right after each industry team received the data. Some information stems from the companies themselves, but officials have no reason to doubt their veracity. According to the hearing testimony and statements provided by the companies, a Boeing executive recognized that the one wrong computer file was not intended for Boeing and did not view it.
“At no point did the Boeing analysts open any files on the second (“K30B”) disk, nor did they make any copies or printouts of the second disk data,” Dennis Muilenburg, chief executive of Boeing Defense, Space and Security, told the SASC. “Our analysts did not forward the files or in any other way provide further access to the data to any other person.”
By comparison, an EADS executive glimpsed the file and quickly reported to another person under a protocol for handling inappropriate exposure to such data. The executive purportedly looked at the one-page file for 15 sec. The file was open on the computer for about 3 min., and the computer itself stayed on for about 20 min. during this sequence of events.
“At this point, we believe the incident was properly handled by our personnel as to mitigate the situation,” said an EADS email to a USAF contracting officer, which was included in a detailed EADS chronology that was sent to the SASC.
Some senators lobbed questions at the defense witnesses about the truthfulness of the EADS assertions. Shirley expressed confidence in the computer forensics. Masiello—and some senators friendly to EADS—noted that the interim Ifara data has since been formally provided to both teams, which can still update the final bids they have submitted. Senators also sparred over whether the hearing was appropriate now, considering that the KC-X award has not been made and the session could be seen as influencing the outcome. SASC Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) defended calling the hearing while ranking Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) criticized the timing and the official release of related statements from Boeing and EADS.