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AUSA 2011 Annual Meeting & Exposition

The Association of the United States Army 2011 Annual Meeting and Exposition is this week.

For more information check out this link.

Department of Defense Not Really That Concerned with Boeing’s Costs for Tanker

At a recent public event the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Logistics & Technology, Ashton Carter, was asked about the projected cost increases for the KC-46A development. His response was that he, and OSD, are not really that worked up about the fact that Boeing (BA) may exceed the projected ceiling price of the contract.

In his eyes the U.S.’s liability is based on the $4.9 billion price. Boeing’s bid of $3.6 was a conscious business decision on their part. Some members of Congress, led by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), have raised concerns about the increase and the fact that the cost share structure of the contract obligates the U.S. to pay 60% of the first billion in increases.

There is also the idea that this situation would encourage contractors to submit low estimates for development contracts, or buy-in, with the goal of making up the difference in their production or by having the U.S. pay some of the overruns. McCain and the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) are also investigating the large cost increases in F-35 production that are requiring the U.S. to pay over $700 million as part of their cost share.

The idea that the Defense Department would accept this kind of business model is interesting. One of the criticisms of defense acquisition is this very point. In the late Sixties when Lockheed, now Lockheed Martin (LMT), did the same with the C-5 transport, although perhaps not deliberately, it is considered one of the examples of acquisition abuse and the program was almost cancelled. Now Carter is saying that as long as it involves a Firm Fixed Price Contract it is an acceptable practice.

This is just the beginning of the situation and Boeing certainly has the ability to not charge more then the ceiling price as they work the KC-46A development. Their current estimate of about $5.2 billion may be conservative and costs for the first 18 aircraft could be under $4.9 billion.

Israeli Modified 767 Tanker for Colombia Seen

Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) has been modifying at least one Boeing (BA) 767 aircraft to be a tanker for the Colombian Air Force. The major difference between this aircraft and the KC-X the U.S. Air Force is buying is that it doesn’t rely on a boom for refueling but just the drogue and hose system.

A photo of the aircraft named “Jupiter” was taken recently and posted at Airliners.net. It may be found here.

The aircraft is painted in the correct national markings and has camouflage. It has a pod under each wing for the drogue to refuel aircraft.

Boeing is proposing a version of their 767 aircraft for the KC-X as well as building tankers for Italy and Japan. IAI’s product demonstrates that the 767 is certainly flexible enough to be modified for the tanker mission. It also raises the question about why the new tanker for the Air Force has taken so long to get off of the ground.

A330 Tanker Reportedly Receives Military Certification

The EADS (EADS:P) subsidiary Airbus built tanker reportedly received its military certification from Spain’s military certification authority, INTA. While the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) does certify civil aircraft for many different nations it does not military systems. EADS needed a military certification authority to do that and used Spains.

The A330 MRTT is being built for Australia and the United Kingdom to perform aerial refueling missions. It has also been proposed by EADS for the U.S. Air Force’s KC-X contract as well as some Middle Eastern customers.

Military certification is a step forward in the process of the aircraft being accepted for use by its customers. The program has seen some delays but is moving forward into service with Australia and then Great Britain.

New Presidential Helicopter Takes a Strange Twist for Boeing

Boeing (BA) has announced that for their entry into the new Presidential transport helicopter they will license and build the Augusta Westland AW101 aircraft. Augusta Westland of course is part of the Italian Finmeccanica (FNC:MI) group of companies. Lockheed Martin (LMT) had teamed with the overseas supplier on the canceled VH-71 program originally intended to replace the current fleet of VH-3 and VH-60 aircraft used to move President Obama and his predecessors around.

The VH-71 was canceled due to cost and schedule growth caused primarily by the massive increase of requirements once the original contract was let. The new aircraft was designed to take into account the changed threat since 9/11 and required complex communications and defensive systems as well as high performance requirements. This meant that the program to build less then twenty-five aircraft ended up costing billions of dollars.

The Navy plans to launch a new contest soon for this critical system. Lockheed this time around has already announced that they will team with Sikorsky rather then Augusta on their new proposal.

Boeing certainly has their own aircraft such as the CH-47 Chinook heavy lift helicopter and even the V-22 Osprey tilt rotor that could be used. It seems that this decision is being made because the size of the aircraft will be one of the factors considered. The footprints of the CH-47 and V-22 are much larger then a single rotor systems like the EH101 or the Sikorsky S-92 aircraft.

The twist of all this though is that Boeing has spent the last four years arguing that EADS‘ (EADS:P) participation in the new KC-X aerial tanker contract is not only bad for America’s economy and jobs but even for its security. It now seems a little ironic that Boeing is doing what Northrop Grumman (NOC) did for the last failed attempt at awarding this contract. Boeing even argues like EADS that the aircraft will be assembled in the U.S. thus creating jobs here.

It might be a little difficult for all of the “Buy American” Boeing supporters in Congress to swallow something like this. Lockheed and Sikorsky are able to make the same arguments that Boeing has done over the KC-X. Even in the complicated world of international defense contracting this move while it makes perfect sense may be a hard sell for the U.S. aircraft manufacturer.

Photo from charlo.be flickr photostream.

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EADS Back in Play for the KC-X, the Aerial Tanker That Just Can’t Get off the Ground — From BNET: Government

Here is the latest post I wrote for BNET: Government –

“When Northrop Grumman (NOC) announced in March that it would not bid for the new aerial tanker for the U.S. Air Froce, the KC-X, Boeing (BA) and its many supporters in Congress believed it was sure to get the $35 billion contract. Now the deadline to bid has been extended 60 days to allow the European aerospace giant, EADS (EADS:P), to submit a proposal.

There are already reports that EADS, which would seek to provide A330 airliners made by its subsidiary, Airbus, to be modified into the tankers, is talking to other defense contractors about partnering.”

The rest may be found here.

Boeing Can’t Be Seen As Taking Advantage Of Being Sole Bidder

Now, that Boeing is the only bidder on the KC-X, the Seattle Times notes that Boeing now has to make sure that it is not seen as taking advantage of being the sole bidder:

Northrop Grumman walked away from the $40 billion Air Force refueling-tanker competition Monday, drawing a widely criticized and nearly decadelong procurement process close to an outright Boeing victory.

With the likely prospect of air tankers rolling out of Everett until around 2027 at least, the outcome could secure as many as 2,000 direct jobs in Everett and an additional 6,000 statewide at suppliers and others, according to previous Boeing estimates.

Yet Northrop’s withdrawal leaves Boeing with a pricing dilemma as it prepares a final bid. The Pentagon, embarrassed by the lack of competition, now will be under extra scrutiny over what it pays for its tankers.

On one hand, because the contract is a fixed price — meaning the winner must swallow the loss if program costs escalate beyond the price it bids — Boeing typically would be expected to aim high, especially with no competition.

At the same time, Boeing will want to avoid the appearance that it is taking advantage of Northrop’s withdrawal to jack up the price.

“This competition was supposed to be a model for future procurement,” said Issaquah-based aviation analyst Scott Hamilton of Leeham.net. “It’s clear the Department of Defense fell short again in running a procurement process that works.”

The contract is to supply the Air Force with 179 tankers used to refuel fighter, transport and bomber aircraft en route to their targets.

Northrop had teamed with EADS, parent of European planemaker Airbus, to offer a tanker based on the Airbus A330.

In 2008, the Defense Department cited a rough contract value of $35 billion, or about $196 million per airplane, plus an extra $5 billion in operational support and other costs.

Certainly, the rivalry in the previous round of the tanker competition between the Boeing 767 and the A330 drastically reduced the cost to the taxpayer.

Read the entire article at the Seattle Times.

Backers of Two Tanker Contracts Want To Stay Anonymous

The Wichita Eagle reports that the a group backing building both the Boeing and EADs tankers, doesn’t want to reveal its backers:
The investors backing a campaign asking the government to split its contract for aerial refueling tankers between Boeing and Northrop Grumman want to remain anonymous for now. The campaign is called Build Them Both. “We are funded by a group of investors who have asked to remain nameless at this time,” said the effort’s campaign manager, Carrie Giddens. The group is not union sponsored and does not have ties to either Northrop or Boeing, Giddens said in an e-mail exchange. However, “we have sought out funding from both companies, their suppliers and unions who would be impacted by building them both.” The requests went out in the past two weeks. On Monday, Giddens called Northrop’s decision to pull out of the bidding process “bad news for American workers, our men and women in uniform, and for the taxpayer.” With only one company seeking a contract, 50,000 jobs that would have been created won’t be, Giddens said in the statement. “Without an ongoing competition there is no way to control costs, to the detriment of our military and taxpayer.”

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