Archive for Northrop Grumman

Reports that KC-46 Contract Already Showing Cost Growth

Bloomberg is reporting that the U.S. Air Force has been briefing Congress in preparation for the FY12 budget that the KC-46 tanker contract with Boeing (BA) is already showing growth beyond the initial award price. The first part of the program is for development and testing as well as the delivery of the first 18 aircraft.

The value awarded was $4.9 billion but the indications are that it will be at least $300 million more. The way the contract is structured Boeing will have to cover that cost increase themselves. Boeing, though, seems confident that when all is complete the contract will be executed for close to the $3.9 billion and will not cost the company.

Boeing was awarded the contract in February for the new tanker program. The Air Force plans this as the first phase of a new program that could buy several hundred new tankers to replace the KC-135 and KC-10 fleet currently supporting operations. Boeing will ultimately build over 150 of the KC-46 tanker based on their commercial 767 airliner design. Boeing has also sold 767 based tankers to Italy and Japan with Italy just taking possession of their first aircraft.

The current estimate though of about a six percent cost increase is not a good sign for a program just starting which is going to be held to strict cost standards. One of the major reasons that Boeing won was their much lower price then their competition from Europen aerospace giant EADS (EADS:P) U.S. subsidiary, EADS North America. Their proposal based on the KC-30 tanker ordered by Australia and the U.A.E. was more expensive but was a larger aircraft that could carry more fuel. Further cost growth will only bring more scrutiny and criticism from Congress.

This was the third attempt by the Air Force to award the new tanker contract since 2001. An attempt to award a sole source lease to Boeing was derailed by fraudulent activity by Air Force acquisition chief Darleen Druyun and Boeing’s CFO. In 2008 EADS teamed with Northrop Grumman (NOC) won a contest that was overturned on protest by Boeing. This latest contract is the result of the new competition held due to Boeing’s successful protest.

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Commercial Air Sales Turn EADS Back to Profitability

Sales of their Airbus commercial airliners has somewhat tempered EADS (EADS:P) feelings about losing the KC-X contract to rival Boeing (BA). In the last year thanks to large orders the European aerospace company returned to profitability after a few years of struggles.

Revenue in 2010 was over $60 billion and the company earned a profit of around $1.5 billion. The company has also been able to increase its cash holdings dramatically with an eye on expanding U.S. defense business through acquisitions.

Boeing and EADS unlike other large defense contractors do have the commercial aviation market to help temper ups-and-downs in military spending. They are though soon to be facing more competition from companies like China’s CAI who especially want to enter there own domestic airline market.

EADS has carefully looked at different potential acquisitions in the U.S. to help grow its nascent defense work there. Certainly they now have the necessary funds to do even a rather large one although something like buying Northrop Grumman’s (NOC) shipbuilding group would seem a little too large and ambitious. EADS will most likely target a medium sized defense contractor who provide services or limited hardware.

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Will EADS Protest?

Now that the U.S. Air Force and Defense Department have awarded the KC-X new aerial tanker contract to Boeing (BA) for their KC-46A aircraft the major question is whether the losing EADS NA (EADS:P) bid will protest? In 2008 when the Air Force selected Northrop Grumman (NOC) and EADS Boeing did protest and the choice was overturned leading to this current iteration of the contest. Considering this is the only fixed wing aviation program in the near future or at least until the Next Generation Bomber program emerges it may be hard for EADS not to protest on the chance that they might win or at least there would be another competition.

In their public statement the company is non-committal about the chances of filing a protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO). They say “EADS North America officials today expressed disappointment and concern over the announcement by the U.S. Air Force that it had selected a high-risk, concept aircraft over the proven, more capable KC-45 for the nation’s next aerial refueling tanker.” but they also say ““Though we had hoped for a different outcome, it’s important to remember that this is one business opportunity among many for EADS in the United States,”. So read into that what you may.

At a minimum the filing of an unsuccessful protest would delay the initiation of the contract for about 100 days making the delivery of any new tankers to the Air Force even later then they will be after an almost ten year process to build a new one.

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And the Winner is Boeing!

The U.S. Defense Department and Air Force announced that Boeing (BA) has been selected to provide the new KC-X aerial tanker. The design submitted by EADS NA (EADS:P) was not chosen.

The new KC-46A will be based on Boeing’s 767 airliner design.

The Secretary of the Air Force, Mr. Michael Donley, stated that the decision was based on “mission effectiveness in wartime and life cycle costs as embodied in fuel efficiency and military construction costs”. This might be a hint that the larger KC-30 aircraft from EADS might have required more investment in new and bigger facilities then the smaller 767 tanker.

The contract has been very political with states that stand to gain thousands of jobs from the program using their Senators and Representatives to push for the respective bidders.

EADS does have the right to protest the decision as Boeing did in 2008 when the contract was awarded to Northrop Grumman (NOC) and EADS. They will have to wait until their debrief by the Air Force before making any decision about that.

Even an unsuccessful protest may delay the start of the program for several weeks and the Air Force plans on receiving the first 18 aircraft in 2017. The new KC-46A will replace Cold War era KC-135R tankers some of which have been flying for fifty years.

Cross posted at Defense Procurement News.

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KC-X Soon? Protest Coming

At a recent press availability during the Air Force Association’s winter conference the Secretary of the Air Force indicated that the KC-X new aerial tanker contract will be awarded as early as this week. Earlier rumors had it being done in the next month or so.

Mr. Donley also made it clear that there is a potential for a protest of the award by either Boeing (BA) or EADS NA (EADS:P) if they don’t win and that the Air Force and the Defense Department are prepared to deal with it.

This is the third attempt to award this contract with the last contest won by Northrop Grumman (NOC) and EADS in 2008 overturned on Boeing’s protest. Due to the size, importance and the conflicts between the U.S. contractor and its supporters and the European aerospace giant this may continue to be an messy, extended affair.

For now everyone must wait until the decision is announced which could occur as early as tomorrow after 5:00 Eastern.

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EADS Claims Able to Lower Price on Offer This Time Around

With the submission of their second proposal for the KC-X aerial tanker program EADS (EADS:P) stated that due to production increases they were able to lower the price on their KC-30 tanker aircraft. Chairman of EADS North America, Ralph Crosby, said by about six percent.

EADS and Boeing (BA) are trying for a second time to win the new tanker for the U.S. Air Force that will replace the aging KC-135R aircraft. In 2008 EADS which was teamed with Northrop Grumman (NOC) won the last contest which was overturned on protest by Boeing. The two companies submitted their final proposals last week.

Boeing has not provided such details but has previously stated that their smaller KC-767 aircraft has better fuel efficiency and maintenance costs that will save the Air Force money over the long run.

In recent testimony the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, indicated that the award announcement will be made in a few weeks following up on the Air Force’s budget document which indicated prior to April 1st.

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Loren Thompson Predicts EADS Win

The well known aerospace analyst writes that based on discussions he has had it looks good for EADS North America to win the current KC-X new aerial tanker competition. He believes that the information accidentally shared by the U.S. Air Force with EADS and its U.S. competitor, Boeing (BA), indicate that the analysis by the source selection board favors EADS A330 MTT based bid.

EADS did win the contest two years ago teamed with Northrop Grumman (NOC) only to have it overturned on protest by Boeing. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) ruled that the Air Force had not applied its own criteria properly in evaluating those bids.

This time around EADS bid by itself and proposed basically the same aircraft. Boeing bid a modified version of their 767 tanker incorporating parts of the new 787 cockpit and other improvements.

Last month the Air Force had to admit it sent information to the two bidders about the others after mixing up the CD’s with data.

In Thompson’s analysis the data showed the Air Force favoring the EADS aircraft. Of course Boeing will have a chance to protest if they really do lose this contract.

In another piece of this very complicated puzzle this latest development may have serious affects on the latest attempt to replace the KC-135 Cold War era tankers.

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Navy LCS Strategy Raises Idea of Split KC-X Buy Again

In the past some analysts and members of Congress floated the idea of using both Boeing (BA) and EADS (EADS:P) as sources for new tankers. This split buy would negate contract protests and also more rapidly replace the aging KC-135 aircraft. The U.S. Air Force had always pushed back saying that the logistical costs of having two very different aircraft would be too expensive. Neither Boeing or EADS really supported the idea publicly either.

One of the leading proponents was Democratic Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania who died in the last year. The idea seemed to go away when the Air Force released its latest RFP and Boeing and EADS submitted their proposals.

Now the U.S. Navy’s decision to use two sources for their new small combatant the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) is raising the issue again.

The original plan was to use two different designs and contractors to make this ship due to the large amount planned to be built. Two years ago because of cost and schedule problems the Navy changed its plan to one where several batches of ships would be awarded in separate contracts. But after receiving the proposals for the first batch the prices from the two bidders were so good the Navy has asked to go back to the dual source plan again.

There are some differences as the Navy planned for multiple providers even with the new acquisition strategy. The KC-X was always going to be one. The LCS despite two radically different hull designs meet the same basic requirements for speed, seakeeping, range and weapon layout. The Airbus 330 and Boeing 767 designs are quite different in fuel loads, range, runway and support requirements so the Air Force would still have two large, dissimilar logistic tails.

Even if Congress or others want the Air Force to copy the Navy in this case it really doesn’t make sense to do so. The original strategy should be stuck too and carried out.

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Article at Washingtonian Magazine

The Washingtonian Magazine has written a good history of the KC-X aerial tanker program. It may be found here.

It is timely to look back at what got the program to this state as we wait for the next contract award announcement in the next few months.

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Effort to Add EADS Subsidies Consideration to Defense Authorization Bill Fails

Senator Murray (D-WA) and Senator Brownback (R-KS) attempted to attach an amendment to the Senate’s 2011 Defense Authorization Bill today that would force the Defense Department and U.S. Air Force to take into account the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling on subsidies to EADS (EADS:P) by European governments. Due to the fact that the bill did not win enough votes to advance mainly due to the attempt by the Democratic leadership to add the repeal of “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” policy on gays in the military the amendment wasn’t considered.

The two whose states stand to gain several thousand jobs if Boeing (BA) wins the KC-X contract will have to wait for this bill to be re-considered or add the amendment to another one. Certainly there are Senators from Alabama and other Southern states who favor EADS who might try to work against the amendment.

Currently the U.S. military cannot consider these kind of trade disputes and rulings in their source selection which is why the attempt was made to add the rule.

This continues to show that the fight for this contract will continue in Congress, the media and across the internet.

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