Missed It by That Much

Missed It by That Much: Defense Secretary Robert Gates yesterday terminated the $35 billion KC-X aerial tanker competition, admitting defeat in trying to find a viable way to fix the tempestuous program’s contractual and political difficulties. (The initial word posted on our online column yesterday morning.) He will leave it to the next Administration and Congress to sort it out. Gates said the seven-year quest to identify the replacement to the KC-135—USAF’s top acquisition priority—has become “enormously complex and emotional, in no small part because of mistakes and missteps along the way by the Department of Defense.” He gauged that the Pentagon wouldn’t be able to issue a new solicitation or award by January, and “rather than hand the next Administration an incomplete and possibly contested process,” he will let the incoming President start fresh on requirements, evaluation criteria, and appropriate funding. “It is my judgment that in the time remaining to us, we can no longer complete a competition that would be viewed as fair and objective in this highly-charged environment,” he said. He continued, “The resulting cooling-off period will allow the next Administration to objectively … craft a new acquisition strategy for the KC-X.” This is the second time Gates has punted a major Air Force program to future decision-makers, with the first instance being continued production of the F-22.