Just Can’t Win

The Air Force plan to favor a tanker replacement that could also serve as a troop or cargo hauler when needed has no analytical foundation, according to the Government Accountability Office. The GAO is in the midst of reviewing the service’s Analysis of Alternatives, which it expects to complete this summer. Meanwhile, GAO provided a preliminary assessment on one key factor—the Air Force preference for a hybrid rather than a pure tanker—saying that “military decision makers approved the passenger and cargo capability as a requirement although supporting analyses identified no need or associated risk.” GAO wants USAF to conduct the “required analyses,” but DOD disagrees, telling GAO that the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System had vetted the hybrid requirement. Part of the reason some military leaders have been willing to forestall purchase of additional C-17 airlifters is that they believe purchase of a hybrid tanker would fill any gaps. GAO, of course, rightly pointed to the Pentagon’s own 2005 Mobility Capabilities Study, which contradicted earlier studies and found that 180 C-17s were adequate. The MCS did identify a shortage of tanker capacity, however.