CONG. John Murtha (D-PA) Dies, Backed Split Tanker Buy

Congressman John Murtha (D-PA) a senior Democratic Representative and the Chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee died yesterday from surgery complications. Murtha had at one time pushed the idea of awarding KC-X contracts to both Boeing (BA) and the Northrop Grumman (NOC) and EADS (EADS:P) teams as a way to rapidly replace the aging KC-135 aircraft. He eventually gave up on the idea.

The rationale for the split buy is that it builds the aircraft quicker while also removing the uncertainty of a protest over a single award. The U.S. Air Force and Department of Defense have made it clear that they do not want to do this due to the increased logistical cost associated with operating two different aircraft. The systems might complement each other with the bigger, longer range KC-30 being based further back in the U.S. and its more permanent bases overseas with the KC-767 flying forward and supporting operations in-and-around South West Asia.

The dual award would also mean that Northrop and EADS will be guaranteed work so their threat not to participate in the latest round would not need to be carried out. That is why organizations like the Aerospace Alliance representing Mississippi, Alabama and Florida support they idea. Some work in Mobile, AL is better then none.

The chances of a split buy are fairly remote but there are still those who want it.

Two Tanker Buy Pushed Again

The Mayor of Mobile, AL was recently on Capitol Hill raising the issue of buying the new KC-X tanker from both Boeing (BA) and Northrop Grumman (NOC). Northrop and its partner EADS (EADS:P) plan to assemble the A330 aircraft in Mobile and then fit them out with the necessary equipment at a Northrop plant. The idea of awarding contracts to both companies has been discussed before. The primary benefit besides avoiding a protest and delaying the program again would be to more quickly replace the KC-135 aircraft.

The U.S.A.F. and Defense Department have not been positive about this idea in the past due to the larger, more expensive logistics tail required to support two dissimilar systems. During World War II and the Cold War the U.S. often did invest in multiple systems for a mission often operated by separate services. The U.S. military has not had the resources to afford this kind of commitment.

The new RFP is expected to be released within a matter of weeks. For the Air Force to do a dual award it would require development and approval of a whole new acquisition strategy. This would lead to even further delays in this contract. The chances of buying the two aircraft in the next year or so are very slight.