Tanker Verbiage

Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), chair of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, said Wednesday he wants to introduce language during his panel’s forthcoming markup of the Fiscal 2010 defense spending proposal that would call on the Pentagon to acquire new Air Force KC-X tanker aircraft from two suppliers vice just one and build them at a higher annual rate than the Air Force currently projects. However, he told defense reporters in Washington, D.C., his language would not go so far as to mandate this dual tanker buy approach—although it is the one that he clearly favors—but instead would retain the option for DOD to select a single supplier in a winner-take-all competition. The latter has been Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ clear preference, but Murtha said he thinks it would be a mistake, given the failed attempt to advance with a single supplier last year. “You are not going to have a [new] tanker if you don’t divide [the buy],” he said, recounting a recent conversation he had with Ashton Carter, the Pentagon’s new acquisition executive. Murtha continued, “If you don’t split it up with two, there is going to be a protest. It will be years before you settle it.” Murtha said not everyone on the defense appropriations panel will support his measure, but, in the end, he predicts a compromise. “I think we will get legislation through that will say, we need to have tankers sooner rather than later,” he said. Ideally, he’d like to have three new tankers assembled per month (see above), more than the Pentagon and Air Force leadership have said would be fiscally possible each year. Murtha acknowledged that earmarking the extra money to support a larger annual buy would be a challenge, but he didn’t characterize it as a show-stopper. (Also see Just Prolonging the Agony)