Gen. Arthur Lichte, commander of Air Mobility Command, confirmed April 1 that comments he made to reporters Feb. 29 in the Pentagon regarding the Air Force’s new tanker platform have been taken out of context in some circles. Indeed some have falsely construed the statements he made summing up advantages of a new tanker over the Eisenhower-era KC-135 that it will replace as a direct comparison by him between the larger Northrop Grumman/EADS KC-30 tanker (now designated the KC-45A), winner of the Air Force’s multi-billion-dollar KC-X tanker recapitalization competition, and Boeing’s losing entry, the comparatively smaller KC-767. During the Feb. 29 media event announcing the selection, Lichte said the new tanker will simply provide “more.” “More passengers, more cargo, more fuel to offload, more patients that we can carry, more availability, more flexibility, and more dependability,” he said. He later repeated essentially the same statement during the briefing when asked to reiterate those points. But lost in the dialogue that day, was that he “was referring to the KC-135” in the comparison, Lichte told a small group of reporters April 1 after testifying before the House Armed Services Committee. “And quite frankly, I was going to say that in comparison to the 135 whoever won.” So why is this important? For one thing, Boeing cites Lichte’s Feb. 29 comments—in their misinterpreted form—in the legal protest it filed March 11 with the Government Accountability Office as proof that the Air Force placed more value on a larger sized platform. The Chicago-based company contends that it would have offered a tanker variant of its larger 777 commercial airliner instead of the KC-767 had it known that a bigger platform was an advantage.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.