Meeting the Mandate:

The Air Force is nearing the release of a request for information to industry to examine the merits of using commercial tanker aircraft on a fee-for-service basis, the service’s top uniformed acquisition official said last week. “We are at that point right now where we are about ready to submit a sources-sought RFI,” Lt. Gen. Donald Hoffman told reporters during a meeting on Feb. 15 in the Pentagon. The Fiscal 2008 defense authorization act contains language championed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that instructs USAF to carry out a pilot program of at least five years that explores the feasibility and advisability of utilizing the fee-for-service tankers to support, augment, or enhance the Air Force’s aerial refueling fleet. “The language that Congress gave us was ‘as soon as practical,’ ” said Hoffman. “They didn’t give us any money so that could define when ‘practical’ occurs.” He reiterated what the Air Force has been saying about the potential desirability of fee-for-service tankers: They might make sense for missions such as supporting homeland defense combat air patrols or some domestic training and test activities. But the commercial tankers are not seen as viable for use in war zones, since there can be no doubt that the tankers will show up at the time and place needed despite the dangers they would face, and it would be riskier to have to depend on non-military services than on USAF tankers and uniformed aircrews in those combat scenarios.