Slip, Sliding Away?

Is Rep. John Murtha, chairman of the House Appropriations defense panel, shying away from his push to have the Pentagon buy two tankers up front to fulfill the KC-X program? In questioning the Air Force’s two top leaders over the issue, he seemed finally to be leaning toward the Administration position that it would be too costly to have a dual-tanker program. Murtha had been adamant that buying two tankers, one from Boeing and one from Northrop Grumman, would be the only feasible approach toward beginning replacement of the Air Force’s elderly KC-135 fleet any time soon. Even when unsuccessful at pursuing the approach in the 2009 defense supplemental, he appeared poised to continue the fight. However, during a June 3 panel hearing on the Air Force budget, Murtha acknowledged that the dual-buy approach would come with “a very definite increase in the development cost,” citing the $7 billion figure used by Defense Secretary Robert Gates as the low end of a potential $14 billion price tag. (Some lawmakers dispute his math.) Murtha further seemed to agree that the higher near-term development costs “would have an adverse effect on the Air Force budget.” And, earlier the two-tanker approach seemed a political shoo-in.