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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Reports That EADS Has U.S. Partner

EADS (EADS:P) had decided to go it alone with their own bid for the KC-X aerial tanker after former partner Northrop Grumman (NOC) decided the requirements favored Boeing (BA) too much. All that meant is that EADS would prime the contract but would probably find other companies, including U.S. ones, to sub for them. It is now being said by EADS that they have found at least one U.S. defense contractor to do “sensitive equipment”. The company is unidentified at this point.

This only makes sense as it allows Airbus to deliver a A330 aircraft or tanker to a U.S. facility to do the integration of the military equipment such as radios and defensive equipment. EADS is planning to do this with Lockheed Martin (LMT) on the Army’s new attempt at buying an Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) and should do this for KC-X. Lockheed planned the same thing with Augusta Westland on the failed VH-71 program. By using an American company to do this sort of work it helps with security and technology transfer issues. It is also the reason that EADS North America exists.

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President Obama Calls For “Free and Fair” Tanker Contest

At a joint press conference with France’s President Sarkorzy President Obama said that he expected the KC-X contest to be a “free and fair” one. This of course assumes that another company besides Boeing (BA) bids on the program.

France has spoken out strongly about concerns the current RFP was written in such a way that only Boeing could win it. Northrop Grumman (NOC) decided not to submit a bid this time around due to these kind of issues. EADS (EADS:P) who had planned on partnering with Northrop is currently considering submitting a separate bid. Sarkozy has expressed his support of EADS and supposedly discussed the issue with Obama today. Obama also stressed that the DoD makes the final decision and he has no role in any of this.

The political fallout if Boeing doesn’t win will be significant this time around — even for Obama.

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Reports That Northrop Won’t Bid

It is being reported that Northrop Grumman (NOC) will not submit a proposal in response to the new KC-X RFP released at the end of last month. Supposedly the announcement will be made after the markets close. Northrop had written to the DoD in December saying they most likely would not without changes in the RFP to make it fairer to the Airbus 330 based aircraft.

There is no word on whether EADS will find another partner or bid by themselves for the $35 billion contract.

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Boeing Will Submit Proposal Based on K-767

As it did in the last contest two years ago Boeing (BA) plans to submit a 767 based tanker. This is similar to the ones they are already building for Japan. To differentiate it from previous versions they are calling it a “NewGen” aircraft. Boeing will upgrade the basic 767 design with a new fueling boom and parts of the 787 cockpit technology.

There is still no formal word from Northrop Grumman (NOC) or EADS (EADS:P) if they plan to submit a proposal this time around.

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In Comparison To Those In Alabama Boeing Supporters Confident

The Herald a newspaper in Everett, WA has an article discussing how happy and confident Boeing’s legislator supporters are with the new RFP released yesterday by the Air Force. This is the opposite as to how those from Alabama feel. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) is quoted as saying, “Given a fair shot, Washington state’s workers will bring home this contract,” Murray said. “We have the skills, the technology, and the experience of having built the only combat-ready tanker to prove it.”

If Northrop Grumman (NOC) and its partner Airbus don’t submit a bid it will be hard for Boeing (BA) to not win the contract. Hence the happiness of their supporters.

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KC-X RFP To Be Released Soon

The Federal Business Operations “FedBizOps” website posted a presolicitation notice yesterday stating that the final RFP for the KC-X will be posted no earlier than 23 February. The draft RFP had been released in September last year. Since then it has been updated and modified several times.

Most recently the latest set of questions and answers were posted on January 27th. The two big issues are how much the final RFP has changed from the draft one and whether Northrop Grumman (NOC) and its partner EADS will bid on the contract. The turn around time for a proposal may be fairly quick as this is the second competition in three years and the draft RFP has been out for six months.

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KC-X Fully Funded In 2011 Budget

President Obama sent his 2011 budget to Congress yesterday. It contains as part of its record defense spending $12 billion for the development and initial production of the new KC-X tanker. The Administration and the Air Force have a goal of awarding a contract this Summer and beginning the development of the new aircraft fairly fast.

This plan is fraught with difficulties based on the history of the program. The two main competitors, Boeing (BA) and the Northrop Grumman (NOC) team, have their own supporters in Congress and their own issues with the approach the Air Force is taking. It can be expected that the source selection will be difficult and the chances for a protest fairly high if both groups do submit bids.

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KC-X Tanker RFP Out In February

At a recent press availability the U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, General Schwartz, said that he expects the final RFP for the KC-X contest to be released next month. He also stated that it will be little changed from the draft RFP. Both Northrop (NOC) and Boeing (BA) have been submitting questions and comments on the draft RFP and some of these will be addressed in the final one. The RFP will be released a few weeks after the 2011 Defense Budget goes to Congress which is planned for 2 February.

Schwarz did say that the final RFP may have changes based on recent comments by Northrop and its partner EADS (EADS:P) that they might not participate as they felt the RFP favored Boeing too much. Both groups had also commented on the use of a fixed price development contract and how it transferred too much risk to the contractor from the Government.

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Alabama Keeps Pushing The Air Force

Supposedly in a meeting between DoD and Air Force officials with members of the Alabama Congressional delegation it came out that the U.S.A.F. will adjust the KC-X RFP to keep Northrop Grumman (NOC) and EADS (EADS.P) in the competition. This of course is a report by Senator Sessions (R-AL) from the meeting. There is no official response as to how the U.S. officials will react to Northrop’s threatened non-participation.

It is in the best interest of the U.S. Government to have two bidders for this program and this may be a necessary step to assure that.

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