Recriminations in Kansas for Boeing

As can be expected with Boeing’s (BA) decision to close their Wichita, KS facility and move work to Washington and Texas the politicians who represent the state are not happy. Many Congressman and Senators who provided support to Boeing to win the KC-46A contract from the U.S. Air Force feel betrayed.

They cite the fact that Boeing executives basically promised the work would be done in Kansas if the contract was one creating thousands of jobs in that state.

The Mayor of Wichita, Carl Brewer, feels the same way. He claims Boeing has betrayed the city by their decision. Wichita has invested millions of the taxpayers money in the plant which has been open since the 1930’s and built bombers during World War II and the Cold War. Now in about 24 months it will stop work and the jobs will be eliminated or moved.

The decision by Boeing based the company claims on cost considerations alone highlight what may happen across the U.S. as the defense budget shrinks and programs are cut or eliminated. Similar scenes have happened before in the 70’s and 90’s as military spending has been reduced. Wichita may be the first of many cities this time around.

That, of course, does not make those who supported Boeing feel better but now they may join the Florida and Alabama representatives who tried to aid Northrop Grumman (NOC) and EADS North America, part of EADS (EADS:P) who worked for those companies to win the KC-X contract. The goal for them of course was investment and jobs in a time when manufacturing ones are hard to find.

As government spending is cut back there will be many other politicians crying foul.

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U.S. Air Force and Boeing Complete KC-46A IBR

One of the first major steps with the execution of a new contract by the Defense Department is the Integrated Baseline Review (IBR). This is a meeting between the contractor and the Government acquisition community to review the contract and establish cost and schedule parameters. The data will be part of the Earned Value Management System (EVMS) used to measure the contract, and Boeing’s, performance and how well it is remaining on cost and schedule.

The IBR for this contract was completed in late August. According to Boeing the IBR went well and the program is grounded for success. The KC-46A will next have its design reviews and plans to deliver the first aircraft in 78 months. The flight of the first test aircraft will be in 2015.

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KC-46A Costs Reportedly Increase

A few weeks ago it was reported that Boeing (BA) had already informed the U.S. Air Force of at least a $300 million increase in the costs of the first phase of the KC-46A aerial tanker program. This led to Reuters asking the Air Force some follow up questions on the situation.

They are now reporting that the way the current contract is structured the Government and Boeing would share in the first $1 billion increase beyond the target price of $3.9 billion for the EMD contract which will also deliver 18 tankers. The original contract value was about $3.6 billion.

Once the price gets beyond $4.9 billion Boeing would be responsible for all costs. Up to that they would pay 40% and the government 60 or $600 million. The reports last month had Boeing predicting that they would spend at least $4.2 billion.

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. EADS was not able to match the price that Boeing offered which is now seemingly controversial due to the reported cost increases.

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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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EADS NA Will Not Protest

At a press conference earlier today EADS NA (EADS:P) stated that they will not protest the KC-X tanker award to Boeing (BA).

This means that the U.S. Air Force has awarded a new tanker contract successfully and the last decade of fits-and-starts is over. Now the emphasis shifts to Boeing and their efforts to meet the schedule and performance requirements of the program.

Hopefully this means in a few years the KC-46A will be flying over the United States.

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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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Reports Final Proposals Due Next Week for KC-X

Both Boeing (BA) and EADS NA (EADS:P) have met with the U.S. Air Force reportedly to discuss final changes to the KC-X RFP. The companies have until 11 February to submit their final revisions to their proposed solutions to the new aerial tanking requirement.

Boeing has said that they will update their proposal although EADS NA has said they may not. Swirling around all of this final burst of activity is the concerns by some in Congress, the media and at the bidders about the accidental release of information by the U.S. Air Force to each team as well as the two World Trade Organizations (WTO) rulings on both companies receiving illegal subsidies.

Some Boeing supporters in Congress are now saying that the data release gives EADS an advantage and that there should be deeper investigations. The Air Force “reassigned” two personnel as punishment and Congress did have hearings last week about the matter. Washington state, Illinois and Kansas legislators all from states that stand to gain work if Boeing wins sent a letter to the DOD IG asking them to look to see if the data released skewed the contest in EADS’ favor.

All of these conditions make it seem inevitable that there will be a protest to the contract award no matter who wins it. There will also be political pressure from supporters of both companies to review the contract and make sure that there favored winner was not treated unfairly.

All this adds up to further delays in replacing the KC-135 systems made during the Cold War. Once again this problem has been created by the disappearance from the U.S. industrial base of multiple suppliers of large aircraft. Currently only Boeing and EADS make aircraft acceptable to the Air Force to meet this requirement. If there is to be even a modicum of competition the two have to be involved which leads us to the current ugly situation of charges and counter charges of favoritism, jingoism and bias.

This will probably be the biggest contract awarded for the next decade by the Defense Department and is critical to both companies maintaining a foothold in the large military aircraft business worldwide which is leading us to the current situation which does not seem like it will end well.

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EADS Bids A330MRTT for Indian Contract

The Indian military as part of its ongoing efforts to upgrade the overall technology of their equipment has tendered a contract for new aerial tankers. Currently they use a version of the Russian Ilyushin (IL)-78 tanker developed several years ago and in service with the Russian military. Reportedly Airbus, and EADS (EADS:P) company, and Ilyushin will submit bids for this contract.

Last year Airbus had submitted a proposal to sell the A330MRTT tanker to India but the contract award was canceled by the Finance Ministry as being too expensive. This contest is a result of that decision.

The A330MRTT is undergoing certification testing for Australia as well as being built for the United Kingdom and the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia. It is also going to be EADS North America’s submission for the KC-X tanker contract for the U.S. Air Force.

Of note the existing IL-78 tankers have been supporting the flight demonstrations for India’s MMRCA new fighter contract. This means they have required the contestants to be modified to work with the IL-78. Competitors include the F/A-18, Rafael, SAAB Gripen, MiG and Eurofighter. This demonstrates that the IL-78 may be able to fuel a fleet of modern Western aircraft.

If Airbus does win the Indian competition it is only for a few aircraft but it will aid them in getting their production processes in place to get ready for the much larger KC-X contract. The more of the model of the aircraft flying as well will help them with the overall cost of the aircraft and program. Just as the more 767 tankers Boeing (BA) sells to other countries the better for them.

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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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Israeli Modified 767 Tanker for Colombia Seen

Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) has been modifying at least one Boeing (BA) 767 aircraft to be a tanker for the Colombian Air Force. The major difference between this aircraft and the KC-X the U.S. Air Force is buying is that it doesn’t rely on a boom for refueling but just the drogue and hose system.

A photo of the aircraft named “Jupiter” was taken recently and posted at Airliners.net. It may be found here.

The aircraft is painted in the correct national markings and has camouflage. It has a pod under each wing for the drogue to refuel aircraft.

Boeing is proposing a version of their 767 aircraft for the KC-X as well as building tankers for Italy and Japan. IAI’s product demonstrates that the 767 is certainly flexible enough to be modified for the tanker mission. It also raises the question about why the new tanker for the Air Force has taken so long to get off of the ground.

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