Here are some new developments on the continuing USAF tanker saga:
- Human Events publishes a rebuttal to a previous piece supporting Boeing. This one supports Northrop.
- Opponents to US Sen. John McCain continue to make hay over allegations that he is responsible for Boeing losing the contract to Northrop Grumman. We continue to find this to be not only inaccurate but unfair to McCain. Boeing lost the first contract in 2004 due to its own illegal actions (paying a fine in the hundreds of millions of dollars in the process) and it lost the second round on the USAF’s own evaluation. Boeing’s protest of this decision will determine whether the USAF process was faulty. McCain didn’t select the airplane. Even an editorial board in Kansas, where the KC-767 would be finished out in military configuration, believes McCain is getting a bad rap even as it criticizes the decision and McCain for EADS connections.
- Boeing hints to us that more of something will be forthcoming on the tanker issue in the coming weeks.
- Some aerospace analysts believe Boeing has a pretty good chance of winning the protest because the grounds cited–changing evaluation criteria during the process–are similar to the successful protests in the CSAR-X helicopter award. Boeing won this contract only to see the GAO uphold two protests from losers Lockheed and Sikorsky. The USAF is redoing this competition. Interestingly, a similar protest was filed and won by Alabama Aircraft over a contract award to Boeing for KC-135 maintenance. Alabama Aircraft cited changed criteria and the GAO agreed. But in this case the USAF said “stuff it” to the GAO and is going forward with the Boeing contract.
- Critics of the KC-30 tanker award suggest that France (Airbus) will withhold vital parts for the tanker if a political policy dispute emerges with the US. Charles Horner (a retired USAF general and a consultant to Northrop) makes in interesting point in an op-ed in the National Review. He writes, “why does Boeing not draw criticism for the fact that the engines on its KC-135R refueling tanker are made by a manufacturer half-owned by the French company, Snecma? Never once in our nation’s sometimes difficult relationship with the French has a single engine part been withheld or even delayed because of the disagreements over foreign policy between our countries. If it has never happened before, why would it happen now, as some suggest that it will?” Good point. The full article may be found here.
Boeing today (March 28) acquired the Vought share of Global Aeronautica, giving the 787 manufacturer a 50% stake in the company.
The plant in Charleston (SC) has been one of the key trouble spots in the 787 program. Flightblogger’s Jon Ostrower reported the probable move way back in December.
This is a good move for Boeing in straightening out the program. Although it’s unclear today just how much of the 787 production problems continue to originate at Charleston, the 787 production system still is under major stress. The world waits for Boeing’s program update–the internal assessment continues–and the date for the program update, thought by some to be next week, by some the following week, remains unscheduled and unconfirmed.
Is the buyout related to the recent news about redesign of the center wing box? The answer, in our opinion, is “no.” Charleston isn’t responsible for the wing box; the Japanese are. Furthermore, we’re told from inside Boeing that the wing box issue was old news (at least one Wall Street analyst says the same thing) and that the redesign occurred quite some time ago for the first six airplanes (or seven, depending on who’s talking).
What made it news is that Boeing didn’t tell anyone and with its in-the-bunker mentality since things went south on the production schedule (a phrase used both inside and outside of Boeing), not being forthcoming, the statement by ILFC CEO Steven Udvar-Hazy that Boeing had to redesign the wing box became news for a news-hungry media.
Even within Boeing, there is complaint that Boeing isn’t forthcoming and therefore winds up de facto letting others reveal problems.
But we digress. Today’s news is tangible evidence that Boeing is taking back control of its own destiny. It’s a major step, it’s not the first and it won’t be the last. But for all interested parties, it’s certainly the right step.
Boeing placed nationwide advertisements Tuesday about its protest over the USAF award to the GAO.
This is part of the public relations campaign by Boeing we’ve disliked. Just as we thought the USAF award had to be done on its merits and not some PR campaign, the protest to the GAO should be done on its merits and not on the basis of some PR campaign.
We’re disappointed with this approach.
Update, March 27, 0830 PDT: Yesterday the Air Force and Northrop filed dismissal requests with the GAO over portions of the Boeing protest.
Says a Northrop source:
“Bottom line is Boeing played super bowl, accepted rules, played game fully expected to win, and lost. Now says rules not fair. Should have said rules were not fair before kickoff. Did not.
“Legally they had 10 chances to protest before they submitted. They instead said it was fair up to when they lost. Cause they expected to win.”
Here’s the official announcement from Northrop about its filing:
Northrop Grumman, today, filed a motion with the GAO to dismiss significant portions of Boeing’s “PR-Plated” protest of the Air Force tanker award.
Northrop Grumman’s motion argues that much of what Boeing complains about was contained in the KC-X Request for Proposal and should have been questioned, or perhaps protested, before Boeing submitted its final bid.
We are challenging Boeing’s protest claims on the grounds that:
- Boeing’s challenge of the KC-30′ superior aerial refueling and airlift capability is untimely and should be dismissed.
- Boeing’s challenge of the RFP’s Integrated Fleet Aerial Refueling Assessment (IFARA) evaluation structure is too late.
- Boeing’s claims that its past tanker experience and superior survivability, and the issue of government subsidies were ignored by the Air Force are untimely because tanker experience was not a proposal requirement and the other items should have been challenged by Boeing long before it submitted its proposal.
- Boeing’s challenge to the Air Forces decision to increase Boeing’s cost proposal is untimely because Boeing knew the basis for the increase long before filing its final proposal.
- Boeing’s claim that the Air Force improperly evaluated its schedule is untimely because Boeing knew of the schedule issue before submitting its final proposal.
Filing a protest – especially when it’s a protest seeking to block the deployment of a defense system as vital to our men and women in uniform as the KC-45A tanker – is extremely serious business.
While Northrop Grumman fully supports the protest process, Northrop Grumman filed this motion as an effort to clear the air and afford the GAO the opportunity to do its job without distraction.
Boeing responded that it objects to any effort by Northrop or the USAF to limit the scope of the protest.
We didn’t support the filing of a protest but as long as one was filed, we believe that a vigorous “prosecution” of it is the only way to clear the air. We’re in no position to judge the merits of the protest, and neither is anybody in Congress on either side of the issue. We believe that it’s in the best interests of everyone involved to thoroughly address all points.
While we think Northrop has some points as outlined above, we’re not sure that dismissing issues on technicalities makes good sense, because it give critics of the award further opportunity to moan. We lean toward letting all issues remain in the protest and letting the GAO affirm or dismiss them, one-by-one, as the best way to answer all the questions and critics.
Having said that, there is one element to Boeing’s complaint we think is stretching the point. Boeing complains that the USAF did not take into account the first KC-767 delivered to Japan. We think this is irrelevant. The first delivery to the Japanese industrial partner, not even the Japanese Air Force, took place February 19, just 10 days before the Air Force announced its award. The second delivery was March 5, five days after the award was announced. Delivery of the second obviously came too late for inclusion in the evaluation process and this is probably also true for the first. More relevant to the evaluation process was Boeing’s performance leading up to delivery of the first tanker, and Boeing’s track record on the Japanese and related Italian KC-767 contracts was poor.
Boeing may have lots of legitimate grounds for complaining about the award, but failure to consider delivery of the Japanese tankers isn’t one of them. Inclusion in Boeing’s high profile complaining only undermines their other salient points.
With delivery delays of around 15 months now expected for the Boeing 787 program, where does Boeing turn to help its customers?
One suggestion was upping the production of the 767, currently at one a month. This won’t work–it takes about two years to do so, according to Boeing. By then the 787 program should be more or less back on track.
A blogger suggested that the 777 could be the answer. Not likely, either, because the 777 has a four year backlog and is being produced at the rate of seven a month, its highest ever.
The used airplane market is very tight. Boeing is looking for 777s, 767s and even Airbus A330s and A340s with little luck.
Boeing and the airlines will have to cope as best they can.
Here’s the backlog chart for Boeing. The production rates are:
787: planned–initially 3/mo, increasing to 10/mo within 18 mo
|Unfilled Orders by Model||Through February 2008|
|Total Unfilled Orders||3544|
|Total Unfilled for 737||2154|
|Total Unfilled for 747||123|
|Total Unfilled for 767||50|
|Total Unfilled for 777||360|
|Total Unfilled for 787||857|
|Total Unfilled Orders||3544|
A move in the US House to adopt legislation to overturn the USAF tanker award to Boeing is ill-advised on a number of levels.
According to a story in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Boeing supporters in the House, incensed over the award by the Air Force to Northrop Grumman and Airbus parent EADS selecting their A330-based KC-30 for the KC-45A tanker, are thinking about adopting legislation to block the award. The details, according to the news story:
- Prohibit the award of a US government contract to any company found by the US government to be receiving illegal subsidies;
- Direct the USAF to reconsider the competing tanker proposals and “factor in subsidies;”
- Direct the USAF to reopen the bidding and allow Boeing to propose a tanker based on the 777;
- Cancel the NGC contract outright.
There are so many things wrong with this approach.
- The World Trade Organization hasn’t ruled on the US complaint, so the USA’s interpretation of what constitutes “illegal” subsidies may or may not hold up before the international body charged with adjudicating these things. Apparently this minor legal detail doesn’t matter to the members of Congress who are behind this one. Furthermore, following the same concept, the EU has “found” Boeing to be receiving “illegal” subsidies (also a complaint before the WTO). If Congress adopts this clause, then the EU would be perfectly justified in retaliating against Boeing by adopting a similar rule. Bad idea all the way around.
- We’ve written on this one before. The USAF has no expertise to factor in anything about the subsidies. It needs to stay away from this topic.
- Boeing had the option to offer a “KC-777″ alone or in tandem with the KC-767. Boeing says it was discouraged from doing so, but as far as we know hasn’t presented written evidence to support this, at least publicly. Presumably this element is detailed in the protest filed with the Government Accountability Office. If so, then the GAO can determine whether the USAF improperly steered Boeing away from offering the KC-777 and equally presumably, this might be grounds to send the competition back to the drawing board (so-to-speak). Congress doesn’t need to be involved on this element.
- This is the worst possible interference in Congressional meddling. It sends a message to any foreign defense company, and any domestic company partnering with a foreign company, that it’s a waste of time to compete for Defense business. As we wrote March 22, Britain’s BAE Systems was the sixth largest DOD contractor in 2006. What kind of message would this Congressional action send to BAE? Boeing partnered with Italy’s Alenia to offer the C27J twin-engine turbo prop for light cargo operations. It so happens the Alenia airplane won this contract. The Congressional action proposed on canceling the Northrop deal has all sorts of horror-ramifications.
Let the GAO deal with this, like the law allows. If the GAO upholds Boeing’s protest, so be it. But if the GAO rejects the protest, Boeing and its supporters need to let this one go. In fact, Boeing would be better off calling off the dogs on this Congressional fight. Boeing might win the battle but lose the war. The EU won’t sit back idly if Congress interferes, and Boeing will be the one to pay the penalty, not some member of Congress with a few district jobs to protect.
As we previously said, Boeing would be far better off to devote its engineering resources to fixing the 787 program and developing the Blended Wing Body for the KC-Y competition scheduled for 2020. A KC-BWB, and subsequent commercial applications of the BWB, would be far more advanced than the KC-30 or anything else Airbus has to offer, and superior to the KC-777. Go for this gold, and the advanced technology that comes with it. Don’t stick with an airplane originally designed in the late 1970s-early 1980s. Think ahead. Be bold.
Blended Wing Body test model. Source: Boeing