February 14, 2007 With the U.S. Air Force officially releasing a request for proposal for a replacement tanker aircraft, the competition is now preparing for battle in the KC-X Tanker competition. While the USAF has a number of urgent acquisition priorities such as a new combat rescue helicopter, space-based early warning and communications satellites, the F-35 Lightning II and the next-generation, long-range strike bomber, the number one priority is seen as the replacement for the Air Force's aging "Eisenhower-era" fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers, which have been in service since 1959. The Air Force intends to replace about 500 KC-135s with a smaller number of new aircraft, with the major contender being the Airbus-built KC-30 from EADS and Northrop Grumman. Boeing announced this week that it will offer the KC-767 Advanced Tanker, an advanced derivative of the future 767-200 Long Range Freighter.
With more than $1 billion already invested in the KC-767, Boeing will blend the latest commercial and military capabilities into the world's most technologically advanced tanker. Innovations include an advanced fly-by-wire boom, new wing refueling pods, a centerline hose drum refueling unit, the most advanced 777 commercial digital flight deck and a third-generation remote vision refueling system. This is a tanker with flexibility to meet other airlift missions; whether it's delivering three times more pallets and passengers than the KC-135 or five times as many patients and medical crew members.
The RFP came after an extensive and transparent dialogue between Air Force officials and officials from the office of the secretary of defense, Air Mobility Command, industry and members of Congress.
Sue C. Payton, the Air Force's senior acquisition executive, said that throughout this entire acquisition process, the Air Force has sought to minimize development risk among differing aircraft manufacturers and types. This RFP is the culmination of those deliberations.
"The Air Force aerial tanker is essential to all Air Force and joint global operations," said Lt. Gen. Donald Hoffman, the military deputy for acquisition. "It allows the joint force to project mobility, strike and surveillance forces anywhere and anytime without relying on intermediate bases for refueling. Tankers put the 'global' in global power."
The KC-X program is the first of three acquisition programs the Air Force will need to replace the entire fleet of aging KC-135 Stratotankers, which have been in service for more than 50 years.
The primary mission of the KC-X will be to provide aerial refueling to United States military and coalition aircraft in the war on terrorism and other missions. However, the Air Force also intends to take full advantage of the other capabilities inherent in the platform, and make it an integral part of the Defense Transportation System.
"From addressing national security threats to supporting rapid global strikes to providing urgently needed humanitarian operations, joint and coalition operations depend upon the rapid global mobility capabilities which the Air Force aerial tanker provides," said the general.
The RFP stipulates nine primary key performance parameters:
1) Air refueling capability 2) Fuel offload and range at least as great as the KC-135 3) Compliant Communication, Navigation, Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) equipment 4) Airlift capability 5) Ability to take on fuel while airborne 6) Sufficient force protection measures 7) Ability to network into the information available in the battle space 8) Survivability measures (defensive systems, Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) hardening, chemical/biological protection, etc.) 9) Provisioning for a multi-point refueling system to support Navy and allied aircraft
Ms. Payton stressed that the department has gone through a rigorous review process for KC-X and has validated the RFP accurately reflects the requirements as laid out by the warfighter.
The final RFP defines an integrated, capability-based, best-value approach. The RFP includes specific factors for assessing the capability contribution of each offeror. Along with cost and assessments of past performance and proposal risk, these factors provide the source selection authority with means to determine the best value between proposals of significantly differing capabilities and cost.
"The Air Force remains committed to a full and open competition. The KC-X is the Air Force's No. 1 acquisition priority and its acquisition will continue to be conducted in a transparent and deliberate manner," said Ms. Payton.