Get over it and move on
In the three days following the withdrawal by Northrop Grumman from the KC-X tanker competition over its conclusion that the Final Request for Proposals for the USAF aerial tanker was irretrievably skewed toward the smaller Boeing KC-767, Northrop supporters and Europeans–notably France–have decried the fairness of the FRFP.
French officials in particular have bemoaned the development. Diplomats, all the way up to the President, have vowed “this is not over.” Retaliatory threats of freezing out US sales to Europe are being thrown about.
As readers of this column know, we have favored the Northrop KC-30 from the get-go and we have supported a split buy between the KC-767 and KC-30 for political and strategic reasons. With this reminder, we have this to say to Europe:
Get over it and move on.
We agree that Round 3 of the competition was anything but a down-the-middle RFP which gave Northrop an even shot at winning. From the moment the Draft RFP was issued last September, it was clear this was a price shoot-out and not a Best Value competition, despite rhetoric from the Pentagon.
And smaller airplanes are less costly to buy and to operate than larger airplanes. There simply is no getting around this. The KC-30 advantage was in its extra capacity for cargo, troops and fuel and this would not be considered unless the price between the finalists (presumed all along to be the KC-767 vs. the KC-30) was within 1% of each other.
Northrop cried foul on this, too, noting that during the successful protest by Boeing over the 2007 award to Northrop, Boeing received Northrop’s cost/pricing information and Northrop did not get Boeing’s–so, Northrop asserted, Boeing had the advantage. The Pentagon denied an advantage existed, but Northrop didn’t believe it.
The Department of Defense is free to set whatever specifications it desires and it can also begin with a sole-source contract should it chose to do so. Our complaint about Round 3 is that it had become clear that DOD wanted “just” a tanker this time but went through the charade of holding a competition of a tanker vs a Multi-Role Tanker Transport. These are two very different airplanes.
Although Boeing will argue that the KC-767 is an MRTT as well, it plainly is more geared to being a one-for-one replacement for the aging KC-135 tankers and Boeing largely promoted it as such. Northrop promoted the far greater MRTT flexibility of the KC-30.
As we noted in our February 23 posting, the Pentagon’s Aircraft Investment Plan said straight-away that the “secondary” capabilities of cargo and troops would be considered in a future KC-competition. If there had been any doubt up to this point what DOD really wanted this time around, the AIP should have removed it.
As for Europe, and France in particular, whining about US protectionism–well, we view this with the same amount of skepticism as we view job claims by Boeing and Northrop advanced during the competition. That is to say, bull-puckey.
France last year said it plans to replace its KC-135s with KC-30s built by Airbus. What about opening this opportunity to Boeing? We know the answer to this.
The A400M debacle is directly related to the engine selection for the transport. Airbus wanted to go with Pratt & Whitney. The European politicians dictated that a new engine be developed by European companies. The resulting delays and costs to Airbus threatened the entire company.
We’re sure our readers can point to similar examples of European protectionism.
It is certainly true that US defense contractors have had the lion’s share of European defense business, but this was largely due to the fact that for decades following World War II, the European defense industry essentially did not exist or produced equipment that was inferior to US technology. This has been changing in recent decades.
Furthermore, it should be noted that Britain’s BAE Systems derives half its revenue from the US DOD and in 2009 was DOD’s fifth largest contractor. Several other European defense companies participate in the US defense market and Airbus parent EADS sold 100 light utility helicopters to the Army and has other defense contracts.
Is there a European presence in the US that equals US sales to Europe? No, of course not. Disparities of technology, competition and protectionism on both sides is to blame.
If there is any criticism to lay at the feet of DOD in Round 3 of the tanker, and we certainly believe there is, it is that DOD did not say from the start that all it wanted this time was “just” a tanker. It would have saved everyone a lot of agony had DOD done so.
As for Europe: get over it and move on.