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KC-X: And the Winner Is, Boeing!

by John Reed on February 24, 2011

There you have it, folks. Boeing just pulled off the upset victory and defeated EADS to win a KC-X contract that will ultimately be worth roughly $35 billion to build 179 aerial tankers to replace the Air Force’s oldest KC-135s.

In this third round of the decade-long KC-X saga, the Chicago-based company fended off European defense giant EADS’ aggressive bid to become a major player in the U.S. defense market.

Many thought EADS would win, given the fact that it’s KC-45 offering is based off a newer, bigger airplane (the Airbus A330) than Boeing’s NewGen Tanker which is based on the 30-year old 767 design.

However, Boeing was the “clear winner,” according to a Congressional source cited by sister site, DoDBuzz.

EADS won the last go-round of KC-X in 2008 but that award soon fizzled as Boeing successfully protested the contract, saying the Air Force wasn’t clear about its requirements in the RfP for the tankers. Oh, and don’t forget the first attempt to replace the tankers with leased 767s back in 2002 and 2003. That went really well.

Hopefully, hopefully, hopefully, this will be the end of the ordeal and the Air Force can start replacing the 50-plus year old KC-135s.

Still, the service is prepared for another protest. From DoDBuzz:

“Let me say right off we have assumed there might be a protest,” Air Force Secretary Mike Donley said last week at the Air Force Association conference in Orlando. “We have taken a lot of care and extra time in our source selection process.” Donley, said “we certainly hope the offerors will not decide to protest but we recognize it is their right to do so.”

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{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben February 24, 2011 at 5:59 pm

I'm still upset that Boeing didn't put forth the KC-777 for this competition. I would have loved to see it instead of the geriatric and small-bodied 767.


DEWright_CA February 24, 2011 at 6:07 pm

But the 7-3 was outside of the performance scope… You submit what best fits the needs of the RFP… If you get a request for a 1/2-ton truck, you don't send in the 1-ton HD and say 'Hey, its bigger, can do more and only costs more than you want to spend… thats ok right?' and not get people says 'huhhh?'


Justin H February 25, 2011 at 6:39 pm

777 is harder to modify. The Navy picked the 737 for the P-8 program and thats even older. Dont hate


Cunninglinguine February 24, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Typical defense acquisition bullshit. Pay more for the less-capable design.

Crooked politicians win again.


Atomic Walrus February 25, 2011 at 2:33 pm

The need is for a replacement for the KC-135. If either design can function as a replacement, then pick the one that'll cost less. Defense spending is going to get cut back severely over the next decade – time to buy what you need for the cheapest price rather than trying to expand on capability with money you don't have.


Steve B February 24, 2011 at 6:28 pm

The Wall Street Journal reported deliveries of 18 aircraft by 2017. Which makes me ask WTF ?. Why is it going to take another 6 years to get this aircraft operational ?. Is it not an almost identical aircraft delivered to Italy and Japan ?. Did the USAF go and gold plate this thing ?. Oiy !.



chaos0xomega February 24, 2011 at 7:43 pm

I wonder how long it would have taken the EADS design to be delivered, considering its already in production…


Jeff February 25, 2011 at 9:30 am

EADs has delivered just as many 330 tankers as Boeing has delivered 767 tankers… both are running in low rate production… EADs just had more standing orders,


Justin H February 25, 2011 at 4:22 am

They are given that long to begin with, and are paid in advance. They figure why hurry. Same goes with road construction crews.


Jeff February 25, 2011 at 9:24 am

Its because the 767 has slipped into low rate production, as where if this had gone through 7 years ago they would have still been made on a higher rate production line. You also have to consider that Japan and Italy have each ordered 4 planes, of which only one has been delivered to each… so they need to make the rest of those before they start the USAF. Next you're reading this a bit wrong… its 18 aircraft by 2017. That means the USAF might get the first plane in the next year or two, but will only receive the last of the 18 by 2017.


Johnny February 24, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Well, at least the dough and the jobs are staying in the US.


icedrake February 25, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Mobile, AL not part of the US on your maps, then?


George Gauthier February 24, 2011 at 6:46 pm

After the bribery scandal involving Boeing and the first round of this competition, I expected the company to be barred from bidding. Wonder why not.


Oblat February 24, 2011 at 10:38 pm

Because Boeing outspent EADS 5 to 1 in lobbying cash this time round.


Retired Now February 24, 2011 at 6:49 pm

The EADS tankers' engines and other equip were to have come from USA companies. I wonder, when it's all completed, just what PERCENTAGE of non-USA parts will comprise the final new USAF tankers ? Wanna bet, it's going to be quite high ? No one can be surprized since candidate Obama campaigned at Boeing sites saying he supported keeping this giant contract at Boeing, vice the Northrop Grumman tanker entry that won exactly 3 years ago. Oh well…


mikekilopapa February 24, 2011 at 6:51 pm

expect defense orders from europe to dry up real soon!!! if the US thinks this won't have repercusions they are seriously mistaken. 15-20 years ago we wouldn't have had any choice but to keep buying your crap ,but today we have a competitive and
thriving defense industri of our own, so now we can buy what we need " at home".


Tad February 24, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Excellent! I just love to see Europe's defense industries thrive and the nations of Europe arming themselves. Nothing bad can come of that, we all know.


ziv February 24, 2011 at 7:40 pm

It seems like Europe plays it both ways, wanting a level playing field in the US and then granting favored status to their own suppliers. I look at the Eurofighter and the A400M, and I think, dang, they would have been pretty impressive if they had been deployed 15 years ago.


STemplar February 25, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Yes, and zero political backbone to do anything with what you buy.


Donnell February 25, 2011 at 8:01 pm

You are so right about that


Mastro February 24, 2011 at 7:26 pm

At least they finally made a choice- the obvious one- but still a choice.


Leigh February 25, 2011 at 5:08 pm

I wouldn't call the choice as much "obvious" as I would "inevitable".


jamesb101 February 24, 2011 at 7:33 pm

Ok…lets get this straight folks….

This was 'Buy American' straight up….
This was a political decision…
Not a Pentagon one…

What was said up above says it….
Less capable design….
Gold plated……

The plane they will get (who knows when…At what crazy final price?) Isn't even flying….
Didn't read something about them putting a new wing the 767 body?

Yep….mike…F-35 sales should dry up….
Buy American we don't want your a/c though…
Maybe they send the Army and Coast Guard EADs birds back and wait 20 years for an American company to produce an over cost, less capable helo….

This sucks…
But birds where supposed to be made in the USA folks…..

This ain't a victory…
The taxpayers just took it on the chin….


jamesb101 February 24, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Remember this number $35 Billion…Cause that's the last time you're gonna see those planes at that number….The final price tag ain't gonna be nowhere near that number…


Joe Schmoe February 24, 2011 at 9:29 pm

Tell that to the F18 "Super Hornet" that was deliver under-time and under-budget.


Praetorian February 25, 2011 at 7:14 pm

Same with EF-18G growler


blight February 24, 2011 at 9:59 pm

Tankers tend to deliver reliably and accurately. Bombers and fighters…mysteriously not.


nagyja@gmail.com February 25, 2011 at 9:34 am

Bomber and fighters are more sophisticated. The higher level of complexity means there is more to go wrong.


blight February 25, 2011 at 9:44 am

Yes, so when the costs balloon out of control we'll know why.

Can't imagine tanker generals just dying to change specs on a whim to drive up the price…


KMT February 24, 2011 at 8:30 pm

I wonder if the 2009 Air France A330-200 fatal crash over the Atlantic, that was never solved, make the US nervous? Or could it be payback for the bruising the US got for EADS WTO win?

Of course the Boeing was always going to win anyway regardless of the selection process. Lobbyists and nationalism prevent fair competition.


Christopher Bloom February 24, 2011 at 8:48 pm

Will this be the final straw that will drive Europe to lift the arms embargo on China?


Snake February 25, 2011 at 1:40 am
blight February 24, 2011 at 10:00 pm

They picked an older airframe so that they could screw America over in another ten years with cries of "it's an old airframe, buy a new one!"

Would it be so hard to get new airframes with new fighters so that we aren't stuck in the same hole of having totally ancient tankers refuelling brand new fighters in a decade or so?!


Oblat February 24, 2011 at 10:43 pm

Sure it's an old airframe but they have enough new bells and whistles to jack up the price. This is where Boeing's 75 years of experience with tankers really comes in. They know how to milk the system. They did it with the KC135 beautifully.


@Earlydawn February 24, 2011 at 11:06 pm

If you're manufacturing new airframes, in a unit sense, why does it make a difference whether the design is new or old? I can't think of any quantum leaps in aerial refueling technology.. it's just a flying gas tank.

If anything, a simple aircraft is less difficult for Boeing to jack up the price on. Remember the powerpoints with glass cockpits and "combat" systems?


DualityOfMan February 25, 2011 at 2:08 am

I don't see any reason why this plane won't be flying in 40-50 years. The B-52s will fly for 80 years, the KC-135s for 60, and the C-130s for 50 at least.
The combat aircraft are the ones that get replaced more often.


blight February 25, 2011 at 8:29 am

The original idea back with the earliest tankers was to reuse civilian airframes to exploit parts commonality. The disappearance of the 707 means that the KC-135 soldiers on with old technology, which probably has to be patchworked with whatever new upgrades come along, or as subcontractors discontinue product lines. That and they're smaller, which means less X can be delivered per airframe, per hour flown, per set of pilots…


Oblat February 24, 2011 at 10:41 pm

DoD is back to picking losers. Bad defense policy, bad industrial policy and quite simply embarrassing.


jamesb101 February 24, 2011 at 11:00 pm

Correction from me….
Aviation Weeks says Boeing went back to the 767-200 and scraped the different puzzle parts first offer……
So the plane will probabaly be a bit like the ones they are giving to the Italians….

Blights right…Still 'Old School'….
But I'm glad everyone gets the 'political side' of things here….


jamesb101 February 24, 2011 at 11:12 pm

and Japanese…..


PolicyWonk February 25, 2011 at 8:14 am

Ya-hoo!!! Congrats to Boeing. I'd rather see the US buying AMERICAN anyday – at least the profits remain mostly with and AMERICAN company.

To all others: Buy AMERICAN-made product – only buy Chinese as the LAST possible resort otherwise, you're supporting a Chinese military buildup, and unethical Chinese business practices.


Mastro February 25, 2011 at 11:20 am

I don't get the "Now the Euros will dump the F35" idea in this thread.

F35 was always a joint project- the tanker was almost certainly going to be Boeing- the one decision notwithstanding.

The Euros will probably scale back the F35 for the same reason we will- we're broke.


Pedro February 25, 2011 at 11:37 am

Well , they wrote the spec for a cheap and cheerful tanker – and that's exactly what they're going to get. As Comrade Stalin used to say "Quantity has a Quality all of its own". For the few times the USAF needs a proper tanker they can probably loan one from the UK or Australia.

There'll be no problem as long as they buy enough KC46s and are prepared to re-engine them in 15 years. Overall, its probably the best decision.


PMI February 25, 2011 at 12:28 pm

I love the internet. The doom & gloom conspiracy theorists make for an entertaining day.

"For the few times the USAF needs a proper tanker they can probably loan one from the UK or Australia."

—Or just use the 50+ KC-10s that are in the fleet.


jamesb101 February 25, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Ha, ha, ha….
I like the loan comment…..

It's like when then have a REAL long reach job they's quietly task an Aussie or Brit KC for the job……


Curt February 25, 2011 at 4:56 pm

You mean they just couldn't use a KC-10? More fuel at a greater range than a A330 and the USAF has 50+ as opposed to the 6 Australian KC-45s (which haven't been delivered yet) and the dozen or so UK tankers without booms (Oh, did you forget that). In fact, the US has more KC-10s than all customers of the KC-45 combined (OK, will eventually have since they are two years behind schedule and still haven't delivered any to anyone).


Mike H March 3, 2011 at 7:20 am

"European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co. is upset that Boeing won the contract for the next-generation Air Force refueling tanker, all 170 of them. EADS should look in the mirror. Remember when it turned down a well-developed and proven American built turbo-prop engine and propeller system because it insisted that it had to have an all-European developed system for its M-400 military transport? The result was a delay of about four years in getting the transport into the air. Eat your heart out, EADS."

From another site's comments
Letters: Europe Casts Stones on Tanker Issue
The Wall Street Journal 03/03/2011


jamesb101 March 3, 2011 at 11:48 am

from Aviation Week…..
However, the tanker decision raises a larger question about perceived access by European manufacturers to the U.S. defense market. In recent years, an Italian design won the Marine One helicopter program, only to be scrapped owing largely to government squabbles over requirements. And Alenia’s grip on a once-robust C-27J buy loosened when the Air Force took over the program and truncated it, dashing the company’s plans to build a stateside final assembly facility.

Now, with the latest KC-X selection, EADS has lost to Boeing, quashing its hopes for a U.S. final assembly plant in the near term. Though these decisions were made individually on their merits by the Pentagon, some analysts wonder whether European contractors will begin to sour on the notion of doing business with a fickle Defense Department.

Nuff Said…..


Oblat February 24, 2011 at 10:36 pm

The 330 delivers 50% more performance at station and cost 5% less than the 767 – that's the whole reason why they had to cancel the last round.

This time round Boeing decided to front load the deal shaving a few % off the price and jacking it back up later with change requests.


Snake February 25, 2011 at 1:42 am

■ I love the smell of pork in the morning.


Curt February 25, 2011 at 5:02 pm

What EADS WTO win? WTO ruling. Boeing, $1.5 billion in illegal subsidies, EADS 20+ billion in illegal subsidies. Of course the US case didn't include the $1.1billion illegal subsidy Germany made to EADS for the A350 after the ruling. EADS claimed $35Billion damage from the illegal subsidies to Boeing, what do you think Boeing could claim? $400 Billion? Yeah, they got hammered.


Leigh February 25, 2011 at 5:50 pm

"You don't buy foreign cargo planes, fighters, bombers, or missiles"

First of all, where is that written?

Secondly, the US has brought foreign bombers and fighters… Harrier and Canberra, so even if it is written, your reasoning doesn't hold.


Justin H February 25, 2011 at 6:40 pm

In general they dont. But there is the rare occasion when the do.


Justin H February 25, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Oh and btw, the MARINES bought the right to build the Harrier.


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