The U.S. Air Force is planning to announce a winner for its KC-X aerial replacement tanker competition as soon as next week, according to numerous industry and military officials.
The service is expecting a protest from the losing bidder, and has prepared for this likely eventuality. The decade-long tanker replacement effort has been marred by scandal, bid protests, award reversal and, most recently, a data swap mishap that saw bidders receiving their competitor’s information.
“We have assumed that there might be a protest,” says Air Force Secretary Michael Donley. “We have taken a lot of care and time … to document all of the necessary aspects of our source selection” to support a Government Accountability Office review. The congressional audit office acts as the referee in federal bid disputes, although it is up to executive branch agencies to carry out any changes.
Boeing is proposing a version of the 767 while EADS is offering a modified Airbus A330. The source selection relies heavily upon the bidders’ prices, and up to 179 tankers will be purchased to begin replacing the aging KC-135.
A Northrop Grumman/EADS team won the last competition in 2008 (nearly three years after the last award), but a protest from Boeing prompted the Pentagon to stop work on that deal and start a new competition. Northrop abandoned EADS last year, and EADS stepped up with its own prime bid.
Boeing appears to be preparing for a loss, likely owing to an inability to beat EADS on price. An EADS win is viewed as critical by this company to greatly expand its footprint in the U.S. defense market, outside of helicopter work already under way.
A decision could happen as soon as Friday Feb. 25.