So writes Lexington Institute’s Loren Thompson Monday of the Air Force’s KC-X tanker decision on Feb. 29. He claims Northrop Grumman’s winning KC-30 aircraft, which beat out Boeing’s KC-767, “was deemed much better in virtually all regards,” making it “not a close outcome.” In fact, he says “Boeing didn’t manage to beat Northrop in a single measure of merit,” in the Air Force’s extensive five-pronged evaluation. There is still the potential for a protest by Boeing, but it won’t get an Air Force debrief until around March 12 on why it lost. Although presently the Air Force is being mum on details, Thompson offers some unsourced nuggets. He said the larger KC-30 was deemed to offer “superior” refueling and airlift capacity at ranges of 1,000 nautical miles and “substantially superior” refueling and airlift capability at twice that distance. Northrop Grumman was rated higher in past performance, offered seemingly less risk in its proposal, and was rated more appealing as far as cost/price. An assessment of how the competing planes would fare in an operational setting found that Northrop Grumman could accomplish missions “with nearly two dozen fewer planes” than Boeing. Air Force reviewers, Thompson contends, “concluded that if they funded the Northrop Grumman proposal they could have 49 superior tankers operating by 2013, whereas if they funded the Boeing proposal, they would have only 19 considerably less capable planes in that year.”
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.