A Matter of Smell

For Defense Secretary Robert Gates punting the KC-X tanker program to the next Administration was the logical choice. He told the Senate Armed Services Committee Sept. 23, “I didn’t like the smell of approving a potentially hundred billion dollar contract or opportunity in the last day or two of being on the job.” Gates said he had even considered “changing the rules at the end of the game” to conclude the award now by paring it down to “one based purely on cost,” since “both planes [the Boeing and Northrop Grumman options] met the technical qualifications.” Instead, he said conversations with “a lot of folks” convinced him that the Pentagon could not overlook “seven years of a competition based on value.” He urges the next Administration to concentrate on whether the proposed aircraft meet technical military requirements and provide the “taxpayer with the best deal.” Gates does believe, too, that the Air Force set out too many requirements, around 800, he said and added, “I think it’s a classic case of overcomplicating the problem.”