Eight to 48 Months

A restarted KC-X tanker program under the new Administration could take as little as eight months and as long as 48 to produce a new winner, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said at a press conference Monday. The KC-X is definitely “not dead,” Schwartz said, but USAF will spend the next few months developing options for the new President to consider. Defense Secretary Robert Gates terminated the program last week, saying it couldn’t be completed in the time left to the Bush Administration. Schwartz said the “most aggressive” option would be one not unlike that originally proposed by Gates; namely, to address only those issues raised by the Government Accountability Office in upholding Boeing’s protest of the tanker contract to Northrop Grumman. Such an approach could yield a winner next August, he said. At the other end of the spectrum, Schwartz noted, would be a “cold, cold start,” setting new requirements, conducting a new analysis of alternatives, and formulating a new acquisition process. That approach could take “36 to 48 months.” However, that estimate doesn’t take into account the “heat and smoke” generated by various members of Congress “representing various constituencies,” acting Secretary Michael Donley noted at the joint media session. Donley said the Congressional input and the acid war of words between the contractors, as played out in the press, was “not good for the department,” which felt “constrained” in talking about the tanker. “It was not a healthy situation for either of us,” meaning industry and the Air Force, Donley said.