Friday, March 07, 2008

From KC-X to KC45

In January last year I wrote a long piece on New Aerial Refueling Tanker KC-X.

now the choice has been made I will try to give some facts and raise some questions.

Bidder’s Dog Fight

For the Pentagon's new next generation aerial refueling tanker, the two candidates (Boeing Co. and rival consortium Northrop Grumman and Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defense & Space Co.) have had a dog fight for bidding. Northrop was offering the Airbus A330-200 based KC-30 as a refueling tanker, and Boeing was offering KC-767, a high performance version of the Boeing 767-200ER jetliner equipped for fully integrated tanker operations.

EADS won, Boing lost.

Boeing has produced close to 2,000 tankers in its history and has already sold nine KC-767 to foreign militaries – four to Italy and five to Japan, which will be delivered in the coming years. Note that Boeing developed the KC-767, at a cost of nearly a billion dollars, on its own.

According to Northrop Grumman's website, their KC-30 Advanced Multi-role Tanker Transport provides 27 percent more fuel (maximum fuel capacity is over 246,000 pounds) than the KC-135R, transports 1.8 times more bulk pallets than the C-17, and carries approximately 280 passengers or approximately 120 litters in an aeromedical configuration. The company was pushing for a capabilities-based contest giving greater weight to cargo and passenger capacity, which could eventually force Boeing into offering an even larger Boeing 777 jetliner based tanker.

Boeing’s KC-767 can carry 19 more cargo pallets, and Northrop’s KC-30 can carry 32 more cargo pallets than KC-135, depends on how far they are flying and how much fuel they are intended to deliver.

The KC-767 carries about the same fuel payload as the KC-135 (161,000 pounds without auxiliary fuel tanks, or 202,000 pounds with auxiliary fuel tanks). Like the A330, it can also carry passengers and cargo at the same time. In the cargo configuration, maximum cargo capacity is 35 metric tons or 19 standard military 463-L pallets; in the passenger configuration, 200 passengers can be accommodated; and in the Combi configuration 10 cargo pallets and 100 passengers can be carried.[1]

BUT which one was more fuel efficient? When it comes to energt conservation, reducing dependency on oil, the Pentagon pretends to be a leading body, but when it comes to real action it is hopeless.

Apparently the main issue for USAF is the number it can buy. A330 costs about $160 million per plane vs. $120 million for the 767. That is why Northrop was saying that if the capabilities-to-cost evaluation metrics aren't included in the final RFP, the company feels the KC-30 will be noncompetitive and we will no-bid.[2]

Before the final-final KC-X request for proposals (RFP) released on January 30, 2007 Northrop Grumman warned that, if the final RFP does not differ significantly from the draft released in December, it would not bid for the 179-aircraft contract. So what? a blackmail? anyway, that bluff paid well.

According to newspapers[3] Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne had said "We want to buy a tanker. We do not want to buy a cargo airplane that tanks. We also do not want to buy a passenger airplane that tanks….Its primary mission is going to be a tanker. The fact that it can carry cargo or passengers is a benefit, but it is not the primary reason for the procurement." He was also reported (by INSIDER news service of saying "I do not see any reason to change the evaluation criteria, and I have not been convinced that there is a reason to change the evaluation criteria," during a January 18 interview at the Pentagon.

Mr. Wynne forgot behind-the-scenes politics surrounding the process of course.
See, Federal Business Opportunities site for contractual history.

The first stage of the three-phase contract would be completed over 15 years and worth about $40 billion for 179 planes (175 aircraft and 4 test platforms). Phase two and three (called KC-Y and KC-Z) will replace the remaining fleet.

here is some technicals: The four engine KC-135 carries 90 tons of fuel and can transfer up to 68 tons. Consider that a B-52 carries over 140 tons of jet fuel, an F-15, over five tons. A KC-767 carries about as much fuel as the KC-135. The European firm Airbus, offering the KC-30, based on the Airbus 330-300, normally sells for $160 million each. The KC-30 carries 20 percent more fuel than the KC-767, and more cargo pallets (26 versus 19). Boeing 777-200LR, which sells for about $230 million each. This KC-777 would have 65 percent more fuel capacity than the KC-767, and 95 percent more cargo capacity. Bigger is sometimes better if you're a flying gas station. The KC-767 was developed partly because it is about the same size as the KC-135 …it would take about three years to develop the KC-777, while the KC-767 is ready to go now, and the KC-30 entered service with Australia. Using the KC-777 would reduce the number of tankers needed from 179 to 120, or less, and be cheaper in the long run.

By the way, in the world market Airbus was ahead of Boeing since 2000. But now things changed. Boeing regained the lead and sold more airplanes than Airbus. While Boeing was increasing its power, Airbus was declining (in fact, EADS could go ahead with a version of A350 for KC-X without Northrop). Production delays of A380, its new A350 is being redesigned after heavy criticism, and changing four bosses in two years give a headache to Airbus. But Boeing had its own sex scandals and corruptions that cost the jobs of three top executives.

To me capabilities don’t say everything. What is more important is the need. The USAF needs tankers. Hence they should get tankers. More fuel carrying capacity, extra more people and cargo carrying capacity do not mean much, since in their entire lifetime KC-135’s on average neither emptied all the fuel they carried nor they were really needed to carry cargo. I do not see any reason why it should change in the future. If the USAF buys Airbus version only then they should think twice on which overseas bases they can put them.

Or else the USAF could buy both planes, some Airbus and some Boeing. Why there must be only one type plane is beyond my understanding. But it seems that “buy American” sentiment was getting higher.

The U.S. Air Force released on January 30, 2007 the Request for Proposal for the KC-X Aerial Refueling Aircraft, officially launching the Air Force's highest priority acquisition program in recent years.

The official announcement said that “the primary mission of the KC-X will be to provide aerial refueling to United States military and coalition aircraft in the global war on terror and other missions. However, the Air Force also intends to take full advantage of the other capabilities inherent in the platform, like airlift, and make it an integral part of the Defense Transportation System.”

The RFP stipulates nine primary key performance parameters:

1) Air refueling capability
2) Fuel offload and range at least as great as the KC-135
3) Compliant Communication, Navigation, Surveillance/Air Traffic Management equipment
4) Airlift capability
5) Ability to take on fuel while airborne
6) Sufficient force protection measures
7) Ability to network into the information available in the battle space
8) Survivability measures (defensive systems, Electro-Magnetic Pulse hardening, chemical/biological protection, etc)
9) Provisioning for a multi-point refueling system to support Navy and Allied aircraft

The document states that this last version defines an integrated, capability-based, best-value approach. It RFP “includes specific factors for assessing the capability contribution of each offeror. Along with cost and assessments of past performance and proposal risk, these factors provide the source selection authority with excellent means to determine the best value between proposals of significantly differing capabilities and cost…The Air Force remains committed to a full and open competition.”

In 2006, Boing was considering KC-777 instead of KC-767. see compariosn at

On Feb. 12, 2007 the Boeing Company announced that it would offer the KC-767 Advanced Tanker for the U.S. Air Force's KC-X Tanker competition. "The Air Force has made it clear -- the mission is refueling aircraft, often in tight, hostile locations. The Boeing KC-767 Advanced Tanker is made for this mission," said Ron Marcotte, vice president and general manager of Boeing Global Mobility Systems. "It is the ideal fit for the requirements set forth in the Air Force's Request for Proposals. Highly energy efficient, agile and with exceptional takeoff performance, the KC-767 puts more fuel closer to the fight -- with access to more than 1,000 additional bases worldwide than the KC-135."

The KC-767 had extended and retracted the refueling hose from the centerline hose drum unit. Boeing conducted some two dozen flights at various speeds and altitudes while trailing the hose to ensure the system's stability. At the end of the hose is a backward-facing funnel-shaped basket -- or drogue -- which mates with the refueling probe installed on some jet aircraft.

"Obviously we see trailing the Hose Drum Unit as a significant step forward since most of our country's military aircraft utilize this system when refueling," said Lieutenant Colonel Roberto Poni, Italian Air Force Tanker program liaison. The USAF primarily uses a boom for aerial refueling, but the Italian Air Force, along with the US Navy, US Marine Corps and other NATO countries predominantly use probe and drogue refueling.

The KC-135 has probe and drogue capability, but the hose and drogue must be installed on the ground. In its RFP, the USAF stated a need for both boom and probe and drogue refueling capability for the KC-X.

The KC-767 also is configured to carry two Wing Aerial Refueling Pods (WARPs) for probe and drogue refueling missions, allowing the simultaneous refueling of multiple aircraft. The WARPs can offload 400 gallons of fuel per minute.

Will Airbus provide that capability?

Now let us look at a GAO Report: Defense Acquisitions: Air Force Decision to Include a Passenger and Cargo Capability in Its Replacement Refueling Aircraft Was Made without Required Analyses GAO-07-367R, March 6, 2007.

" Without sound analyses, the Air Force may be at risk of spending several billion dollars unnecessarily for a capability that may not be needed to meet a gap or shortfall. Military decision makers approved the passenger and cargo capability as a requirement although supporting analyses identified no need or associated risk....DOD did not perform the required analyses and failed to identify a gap, shortfall, or redundancy for the passenger and cargo capability."

The report questions whether the Air Force employed a sound, traceable, and repeatable process producing analyses that determined if there is a gap, shortfall, or redundancy and assessed the associated risk with regard to passenger and cargo capability for the KC-135 Recapitalizan.

The inclusion of a passenger and cargo capability in the current proposal should not depend on what occurred in the past but what will be needed in the future.

The Global Mobility Concept of Operations describes the primary mission of air refueling as providing worldwide, day/night, adverse weather, probe/drogue, and boom air refueling on the same sortie to receiver-capable U.S., allied, and coalition military aircraft (including unmanned aircraft). Refueling aircraft are employed to support global attack, air bridge, deployment, redeployment, homeland defense, and theater support to joint, allied, and coalition air forces, and specialized national defense missions. They also are used to support special operations and U.S. nuclear forces.

In March 2007 (I guess) Air Mobility Command issued a white paper entitled “KC-X: The Next Mobility Platform, The Need for a Flexible Tanker.”

here is some parts form the report

" JP 3-17 “Joint Doctrine and Joint Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Air Mobility” states, “…all USAF tanker aircraft are capable of performing an airlift role and are used to augment core airlift assets. Under the dual role concept, air refueling aircraft can transport a combination of passengers and cargo while performing air refueling. In some circumstances, it may be more efficient to employ air refueling aircraft strictly in an airlift role. Deploying air refueling units may be tasked to use their organic capacity to transport unit personnel and support equipment or passengers and cargo from other units.”

The requirement for a flexible Aerial Refueling Aircraft that can operate throughout a battlespace to deliver fuel and/or cargo and/or passengers is rooted in Joint Doctrine. Equipping the Nation’s new KC-X aircraft with appropriate floors for carrying passengers and cargo, reasonably-sized doors to accommodate standard-sized pallets, and modest defensive systems which allow the aircraft access to an area of operations will ensure success for US Combatant Commanders.

Daily, US Combatant Commanders count on tankers to carry patients, passengers, and cargo and would be hamstrung without this flexibility. The two most recent Mobility Capability Studies found that future tankers, with increased passenger and cargo capability, will enhance the benefits of our Joint Force. AMC is continually evaluating the potential for future greater contributions of the KC-X as a total mobility platform."

Now let's go back to 1993: Another GAO study - Operations Desert Storm: An Assessment of Aerial Refueling Operational Efficiency; GAO, November 1993. GAO/NSIAD-94-68.


A large coalition tanker fleet transferred over 70million pounds of fuel during roughly 50,000 refuellings to about 2,000 aircraft over the 43 days of combat. While these overall results suggest a notable success story, it must be acknowledged that an average of almost 40% of the fuel carried by Air Force tankers went unused. Unused fuel us an indication of the inefficiency of tanker operations.

Boom-equipped tankers can only refuel one aircraft at a time. On the other hand, the Navy, Marine Corps, and most allied fighter use a probe &rogue system.

air refueling support-an average of about 240 Air Force tanker missions involving the refueling of more than 1,000 aircraft each day-was a complex task

The boom is a telescoping tube mounted near the tail of a tanker. During refueling, the boom operator aboard the tanker maneuvers the tip of this tube into a receptacle aboard the receiver aircraft. ‘In the probe&drogue system, a hose and reel mechanism attached to a tanker aircraft releases a funnel-shaped basket connected to a flexible hose. To refuel, the pilot of the receiver aircraft inserts a pipe, called a probe, into the basket.

only the KC10 with both a boom and a fuselage-mounted drogue can refuel Air Force and naval aircraft on the same mission.

After the war, the Air Force Chief of Staff noted that “the tanker contribution to Desert Storm is what made it [the air war] work.”

Air Force was unable to provide data on unused fuel.

‘A tanker cannot land with as much fuel as it can cany aloft and must dump fuel if an insufficient quantity is not used or off-loaded.

About 17 million pounds of fuel were jettisoned--over one-half during the first 2 weeks of the war! This jettisoned amount represents a small fraction-less than 3 percent-of the total fuel transferred during combat missions.

Generally, the percentage of unused fuel for the three tanker units we analyzed declined as the war progressed, suggesting that there was an improvement in the efficiency of air refueling assets during the war. During the first week of the war, 41.6 percent of the fuel carried aloft by these three units was unused during transfer to 5,077 receivers. By the final week of the war, unused fuel dropped to 36 percent, while the number of receivers jumped to about 6,100.

A key lesson learned during Desert Storm is that the ability of air refueling operations to support combat missions is limited not only by the number of tankers but also by the efficiency of fuel transfer.

Although the KG136R model tanker only represented about 28 percent of the tankers that reported dumping fuel, it accounted for about 60 percent of the fuel jettisoned. The KGUSR, the most modem KC-13btype tanker, can take off with the most fuel. The extent to which it jettisoned fuel suggests that under these operational conditions, its larger fuel capacity was wasted.

For example, our analysis shows that KC-10s were the most efficient Air Force tankers during Desert Storm, dumping almost no fuel and returning to base with the least amount of unused fuel-about 29 percent compared to almost 42 percent for the KC-135R. Areas that contributed to inefficiencies in air refueling operations included receiver requirements, tanker planning, refueling equipment, communication, and aerial refueling doctrine. An additional factor, training, is addressed in a subsequent section.

: end quote

I know that this post is boring. I just want to put the things I had in my file.

my questions:
1. How do the fuel consumption rates for Boeing and Airbus offers compare?
2. Does the Pentagon really need a tanker with passenger and cargo capabilities?
3. How will unused fuel issue be solved?
4. Can all US bases or host bases accomodate several bigger tankers easily?
5. How will the Pentagon deal with two companies (EADS and Airbus still have no one management)?
6. If the Pentagon wants in the future to add some extra capabilities can EADS/Airbus provide that? (if it still exists)
7. How can EADS guarentee the quality of its tanker? Does it have any real experience or it is an amateur?
8. What will happen if Airbus cannot provide the tanker in timely manner? In normal commerce it could postpone the delivery date of A380 but this time a delay must not be accepted.
9. Would it be possible for their tanker to run on biofuel?

maybe some day I will be able to find the answers.
PRESS RELEASE -- Secretary of the Air Force, Office of Public AffairsRelease No. 040208
February 29,2008
Air Force Announces Tanker Contract

WASHINGTON - Secretary of the Air Force, Michael W. Wynne, and Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. Duncan J. McNab, announced the selection of Northrop Grumman Corporation, headquartered in Los Angeles, Calif., as the winner of the KC-X competition for development and procurement of up to 179 tanker aircraft for approximately $35 billion. The initial contract for the newly-named KC-45 is for the system design and development of four test aircraft for $1.5B.

This contract also includes five production options targeted for 64 aircraft at $10.6B. "The tanker is our number one procurement priority right now. Buying the new KC-45A is a major step forward and another demonstration of our commitment to recapitalizing our Eisenhower-era inventory of these critical national assets. Today is not just important for the Air Force, however. It's important for the entire Joint military team, and important for our coalition partners as well. The KC-45A will revolutionize our ability to employ tankers and will ensure the Air Force's future ability to provide our nation with truly Global Vigilance, Reach, and Power," said General McNab. "The tanker is the number one procurement priority for us right now. It is the first step in our critical commitment to recapitalize our aging fleet to move, supply, and position assets anywhere. In this global Air Force business, the critical element for air bridge, global Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, and global strike is the tanker," said General McNab.

The KC-45A will provide significantly greater air refueling capabilities than the current fleet of Eisenhower-era KC-135s it will begin replacing. For example, it will be able to refuel Air Force and Navy aircraft on every flight. These aircraft have different systems for receiving fuel and today the KC-135s must be set up for one or the other before takeoff. The KC-45A will be equipped for both systems on every flight and will also have connections for wing pods. When wing pods are installed, it can refuel two probe-equipped aircraft, such as Navy and many allied aircraft, at the same time. It can even be refueled in flight by other tankers. The KC-45A will also have defensive systems that allow it to go into dangerous environments that we currently have to avoid. It will also supplement our airlift fleet by carrying cargo, passengers, and medical patients in a secondary role.

The KC-X source selection used a "best value" determination to select a winner based on five factors: Mission Capability, Proposal Risk, Past Performance, Cost/Price, and an Integrated Fleet Air Refueling Assessment (performance in a simulated war scenario). These five factors were developed after consulting with industry and were finalized prior to starting the competition. Considered together, these grading criteria ensured the Air Force maximized the capability delivered to the warfighter while optimizing the taxpayers' investment.

The Air Force followed a carefully structured process, designed to provide transparency, maintain integrity and promote fair competition. The Air Force met with offerors on numerous occasions to gain a thorough understanding of their proposals and provide feedback on their strengths and weaknesses. The Air Force also provided insight into government cost estimates throughout the process instead of waiting until the post-decision debrief. The competitors indicated they've been very pleased with the degree of communication. The evaluation team was comprised of experts covering a broad spectrum of specialties from acquisition to operations and was hand-picked from across the USAF and other government agencies. As part of the process, the Air Force will now provide a written notice to both the selected and not-selected and offer to provide a de-brief on their bid proposals.

To maintain the integrity of that process, the Air Force will be unable to provide additional information about the proposals and contract. "Today's announcement is the culmination of years of tireless work and attention to detail by our Acquisition professionals and source selection team, who have been committed to maintaining integrity, providing transparency, and promoting a fair competition for this critical aircraft program," said Secretary Wynne. "Through these efforts we believe we will provide a higher-value resource to the warfighter and the taxpayer."

[1] US Debating Aerial Tanker Types, Mix, Defense Industry Daily, 20-Jul-2006.
[2] Stanley Holmes and Dawn Kopecki , Northrop Spurns Defense Prize, Buisnessweek, January 19, 2007.
[3] E.g. Loren B. Thompson (Outside View: Air tanker crisis), Jan 22, 2007.
[4] John A. Tirpac, The Air Force Starts Over, Air Force Magazine, August 2007, Vol. 90, No. 8, pp.36-40.
[5] Megan Scully, Worse Than the Hollow Force, Air Force Magazine, July 2007, Vol. 90, No.7.


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