Protect the Taxpayer

In explaining Monday why Northrop Grumman was exiting the Air Force’s KC-X tanker competition, Northrop CEO and President Wes Bush urged the Defense Department “to keep in mind the economic conclusions” of the prior KC-X round as it negotiates a sole-source contract with Boeing for the new tankers. Northrop won that round in 2008, but the decision was later nullified. Bush said the Air Force, at that time, “determined that it would pay a unit-flyaway cost of approximately $184 million” for Northrop’s first 68 tankers, including non-recurring development. “With the department’s decision to procure a much smaller, less capable design” this time around, Bush continued—alluding not-by-name to Boeing’s newly unveiled NewGen Tanker—”the taxpayer should certainly expect the bill to be much less.” To note: After Northrop’s withdrawal, Boeing maintained that it would offer a tanker “at lower total life cycle cost than any competitor” could.