GAO Expresses Concerns with KC-46A Development

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on the KC-46A new aerial tanker program and expressed some concerns with the schedule. Boeing (BA) won the contract to develop a version of their 767 airliner and deliver 17 aircraft after a long struggle with EADS (EADS:P).

GAO is worried that some of the software that is being developed to control the mission planning, defense and routing of the aircraft is being done at the same time as production and testing. GAO also considers the new fuel boom operating station and control higher risk as it has yet to be demonstrated in normal operating environment and at a high maturity. Similar systems are in use on only 3 tankers operated by non-U.S. military.

The KC-46A contract as expected has had some cost increases and earlier this year the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (D,OT&E) also expressed that the test schedule was not adequate and the program did not allow enough time for the necessary testing.

The Air Force and Boeing dispute the reports claiming the program is on track and risks manageable.

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GAO Denies U.S Aerospace’s Protest

The third bidder for the KC-X tanker contract, U.S. Aerospace (USAE) and its Ukrainian partner Antonov, had their protest denied yesterday by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The company had filed the protest because the Air Force had said their proposal was delivered past the deadline for submission. U.S. Aerospace claimed that their courier was deliberately delayed and should have been allowed to make the delivery on time.

This decision leaves only the Boeing (BA) and EADS (EADS:P) bids as being considered for the contract. The Air Force had previously said that a decision would be announced around the middle of November but there have been reports that this might slip.

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Air Force Preparing for Slip to KC-X Award?

There are now reports that the U.S. Air Force may slip the announcement of a winner of the KC-X contract until the end of the year. The last planned date was the middle of November. This was a slight slip as the original goal was to have work start on that date.

Now it could be as late as just before Christmas that an award will be made. There are potential concerns with the results of the mid-term elections in early November that may have to be reflected on when coming to a decision on whether to award to Boeing (BA) or EADS (EADS:P). No matter what the program may see further delay if the loser protests the decision.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is also addressing two protests by the U.S. Aerospace (USAE) and Antonov team over the failure of the Air Force to accept their proposal claiming it was delivered five minutes too late. There is a chance that any upholding of the protests would cause further delays to the source selection and award.

The KC-X is now on its third iteration over the the last nine years and continues to look as if a new tanker won’t be purchased anytime soon.

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Air Force Plans Quick Turn Around On KC-X Contract

It is expected that the final RFP for the KC-X New Aerial Tanker program will be released this week. At a recent forum the Secretary of the Air Force, Michael Donley, said that they hope to have the contract awarded by the end of the summer. This means that if you allow a few months for the proposals to be prepared and submitted the source selection will only take ninety days or so. This is an aggressive time line for a contract this large.

It may be that the Air Force is expecting the Boeing (BA) and Northrop Grumman (NOC) proposals to be much like the ones they submitted in 2008. This will make it easier to do an evaluation and award. There is a great deal of historical work to draw upon. Of course that competition ended in a Northrop win, a Boeing protest, and the GAO upholding it. This led to the current attempt at a contract.

Of course if only Boeing submits a bid as might happen it will make the whole selection process easier.

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John McCain Inserts Himself Into KC-X Competition

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) whose efforts frustrated the Air Force’s attempts to award Boeing a lease deal for the new tanker back in 2001 – 2004 started the whole competition now says that he wants an independent “watchdog” as part of this source selection. He was not clear as to who he would want to do this but hopes to have an unbiased source selection.

If there is a protest over the latest attempt the GAO will be the “independent” agency tasked with sorting that out. If they fail there is always the U.S. Court of Appeals. Those should be independent enough for Senator McCain.

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