U.S. TANKER BID POISED TO REOPEN
By Julian Nettlefold
02 Mar 09. BATTLESPACE visited Northrop Grumman’s Melbourne, Florida Facility this week to discuss the imminent re-opening of the huge $168 billion, total, USAF refuelling tanker Requirement. The Requirement for 179 aircraft is divided into three tranches KC-X, Y & Z. These aircraft will replace the rapidly ageing fleet of 534 KC-135 and 49 KC-10 tankers. Jim Stratford of Northrop told BATTLESPACE that the existing fleet was ageing so fast that the USAF was considering a Program to re-skin these aircraft which would be a hugely costly and difficult exercise. Re-skinning aircraft, as BAE Systems found to its cost, in the current Nimrod MR4A contract often reveals problems which have remain hidden for years.
The initial award of the KC-X tranche, worth $35 billion was awarded in February 2008 to Northrop Grumman (NOC) and its European partner EADS using the Airbus A330-200 airliner as a base airframe. The award was withdrawn in July after Boeing successfully appealed the decision.
CNN reported that French Defense Minister Herve Morin called for fair competition on Tuesday as Washington prepares to reopen bidding.
“I felt an obligation to mention the future call for tender regarding an American tanker,” Morin told reporters at a joint press conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Morin said he reminded his counterpart that an “opening had to be necessary in both directions,” apparently a reference to U.S. demands to open up European defense contracts to U.S. companies. “You can’t be a great supplier of military equipment and at the same time consider there should not be a reciprocity,” Morin said.
Gates in January said he hoped to reopen bidding in the spring on the tanker, with a decision due in early 2010.
“At present we have reduced our team to a skeleton of fifteen people whilst we await the reopening of the bid. As funding ceased last year, Northrop continues to fund the Programme with its own funds. The Joint Oversight Committee signed off the RFP on February 23rd We expect to receive the new RFP in June with a final RFP in August with contract award in early 2010.” Stratford said.
“Do you foresee the possibility of a split-buy as some pundits have reported?” The Editor asked.
US defence secretary Robert Gates is adamant that he wants one model from one supplier to enable a streamlined acquisition with a common supply chain, which reduces costs, training and deployment time. Having said that the required build rate to replace the existing fleet looks like about fourteen aircraft a year, which is tough task for both of us to ramp up production. A sole-source buy would require up to twenty a year.
“What were the main factors which caused the Protest to be upheld?”
“Only eight of the one hundred points protested were upheld. We see local content and jobs as a big point for the winning bid and we were seen as the foreign bid.”
“How many U.S. suppliers did you include?”
“We included 230 U.S. suppliers including G.E., Sgt. Fletcher, Parker and Telephonics. The KC-35 will have a U.S. military avionics suite. Most people forget that the A-330 is 60% U.S. content in its standard airliner form which in fact is 2% higher than the Boeing 787 which checks in at 58% U.S. content. We also believe that we were $3 billion cheaper than Boeing. Boeing has been given our bid, whilst we haven’t seen theirs! The total jobs we would create at the new Mobile Plant would be 1000 and another 500 here at Melbourne. The total new jobs over the Program is estimated at 48,000, whilst we understand that Boeing claimed 45,000.”
“What do you see as your technical advantages?”
“We have put the A340 wing on the KC-35 which gives us a huge advantage in fuel capacity of 22%. The A340 has four engines compared to our two thus we have ample capacity for extra fuel and hose and drogue points, one on each wing. We also have extra space for