Air Force Awards Tanker Contract to Northrop Grumman
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 29, 2008 The Air Force announced today it has selected Northrop Grumman Corp. to build its next-generation air-refueling tanker aircraft.
The contract calls for up to 179 new KC-45A tankers to be built over the next decade or so at a cost of around $35 billion. Tanker aircraft are used to refuel other aircraft while in flight.
“This initial contract for the newly named KC-45A will provide significantly greater air refueling capabilities than our current fleet of Eisenhower-era KC-135s,” Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne told reporters at a Pentagon news conference.
The new tanker “will be able to refuel U.S. and allied aircraft in every area of responsibility, worldwide, 24 hours a day, in adverse weather and be equipped with defensive systems,” Wynne said.
The new planes eventually will replace hundreds of aging KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft that were introduced in the late 1950s.
“Today’s tanker decision is a major step in the Air Force’s critical recapitalizing and modernization that is going to be required to defend the United States and to support our international partners in the 21st century,” Wynne said.
The new aircraft also will used to carry cargo, passengers, and medical patients, the Air Force secretary said.
“The KC-45, built by Northrop Grumman, will provide our nation and partners the critical ability to reach across the globe and project our combat capability or our humanitarian friendship rapidly and effectively,” Gen. Duncan J. McNabb, the Air Force’s vice chief of staff, said.
The new tankers, McNabb continued, will “ensure our bombers and our fighters can deliver global power and give our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms the ability to provide global vigilance.”
The Airbus-Northrop Grumman partnership had competed against the Boeing Co. for the tanker contract, said Sue C. Payton, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition. Payton cited the transparency of the contracting competition, noting both enterprises had received regular feedback from the Air Force on how they were performing throughout the process.
“Northrop Grumman clearly provided the best value to the government,” Payton said, noting the Airbus-allied group’s plane earned superior marks for mission capability, past performance and in several other categories.
“I would tell you, that, overall, Northrop Grumman did have strong areas in aerial refueling and in airlift,” Payton said. There was “no bias” involved in the awarding of the contract, she emphasized.
Both competitors will be debriefed in coming weeks, Payton said, noting there is an appeal process.
If everything goes well, the first test aircraft should be flying by 2010, said Air Force Gen. Arthur J. Lichte, commander of Air Mobility Command based at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. Air Mobility Command provides the U.S. military with passenger, cargo, tanker and other aircraft support.
The Air Force should receive the first group of operational KC-45A aircraft around 2013, Lichte said.
Citing his role as Air Mobility Command’s chief, Lichte expressed relief that the process to deliver a new air refueling tanker to his service is moving forward.
“We know that in the future years we will have a new tanker,” Lichte said. “Tankers are what really enable the fight.”