Dual Tanker Default

The Pentagon’s consistent failure to implement or at least articulate a plan to replace aged aerial tankers makes the notion of a dual tanker buy a reasonable course of action, Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) said Thursday. After “eight or nine years” of waiting for a resolution of the tanker issue, “I don’t think anybody can reasonably argue that the Congress can’t step in at this stage and offer at least a temporary solution,” Abercrombie told defense reporters in Washington. It is past time to “get some [new aircraft] in the air and start making the transition” because the need to replace the existing tanker fleet is “urgent.” Abercrombie called “the ambiguity” about basic things like who will lead the tanker acquisition process that emanates from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and others near his level “nonproductive at this point” as Congress struggles to make defense budget decisions. He said the leading members of the four committees that oversee defense spending “all say they’re open [to] multiple buys.” Abercrombie added that just because the dual buy wasn’t mentioned in the armed services committee’s defense budget markup doesn’t mean it won’t appear later in the House bill or conference. The problem, he said, was that “some definitive answers” from the Pentagon are overdue. He doesn’t anticipate Congress making a decision on the dual buy option until there is a new tanker request for proposals. And, he said he would support “a better idea” if there is one, since he’s not “married” to the notion of a dual buy. (According to a Reuters news service report, Gates on Thursday afternoon said he expected to decide the way forward on the tanker replacement program “within a few days.”)