Lawmakers took the opportunity during the July 22 Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing for the Air Force’s two prospective senior leaders to air their views on the KC-X tanker battle. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), whose state the Northrop Grumman/EADS team has elected as an assembly site for its tanker, reminded Michael Donley and Gen. Norton Schwartz of the service’s five-year tanker quagmire, urging both nominees to pursue a fair and speedy resolution. Donley acknowledged that DOD acquisition czar John Young, who has assumed the mantle of KC-X source selection authority, would “have all the support he needs and wants from the Air Force.” Sessions also asked for assurance that the new tanker would be a flexible “game changer” that would swing from refueler to airlifter, a role for which the Northrop team contends its aircraft is well-suited. Schwartz replied, “Its primary mission will be air refueling, but we can no longer afford to have platforms that are sort of single-mission, point-mission focused.” Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) maintained that USAF’s original award of the KC-X contract to Northrop was at odds with Title 10 considerations that require DOD to consider the impact of every major program award on the US industrial base. Donley said he must “defer to the acquisition experts on the issues of foreign content,” but he added that “we live in a global economy in which most” US companies “have international connections.” Clinton asked for a “specific answer” to her question in writing, noting that she is “very well aware that we live in an international economy, but I’m also extremely conscious of the impact of decisions … that undermine our competitiveness for the long run and eliminate jobs and thereby undermine technical skill acquisition in a way that I think will come back to haunt us.”
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.