Northrop Grumman, EADS win coveted tanker contract

In a surprise announcement, the U.S. Air Force has picked a Northrop Grumman/EADS design over Boeing's submission for the KC-X next-generation fuel tanker. The deal is for up to 179 tankers and is worth $35 billion. EADS plans for substantial manufacture in the U.S.

A long-awaited contract for the next-generation military tanker for the U.S. Air Force, bid on by The Boeing Co. (Seattle, Wash.) and a Northrop Grumman/EADS consortium, was announced on Feb. 29. The winner, Northrop Grumman/EADS, came as a surprise to the aerospace community and is a major coup for the Europe-based EADS organization.

The award was announced by secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne and vice chief of staff of the Air Force Gen. Duncan J. McNabb. The contract for the tanker, dubbed the KC-X, calls 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 $1.5 billion. This contract also includes five production options targeted for 64 aircraft at $10.6 billion.

“The tanker is the number one procurement priority for us right now,” General McNabb said. “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.

The U.S. Air Force says 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.

Air Force officials followed a carefully structured process, designed to provide transparency, maintain integrity and promote fair competition. Air Force officials met with offerors on numerous occasions to gain a thorough understanding of their proposals and provide feedback on their strengths and weaknesses. Officials 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.

EADS North America is the partner to Northrop Grumman on the new tanker, with responsibility for assembling airframes and providing completed flight-qualified aircraft and refuelling sub-systems. The KC-45A Tanker is based on the EADS A330 MRTT (Multi Role Tanker Transport). Its airframe is derived from the A330 jetliner produced by EADS' Airbus Division, of which more than 880 have been ordered worldwide in passenger and freighter configurations. The Military Transport Aircraft Division (MTAD) is responsible within the EADS Group for all military derivative programmes based on Airbus platforms, including tankers.

Production of KC-45A airframes will be performed at Airbus' new Mobile, Ala., aerospace center of excellence, which houses the Airbus KC-45A final assembly facility. In addition, the final assembly of Airbus A330 civilian freighters will be performed there, providing a robust final assembly line to ensure low risk, high efficiency and increased capacity for both the U.S. Air Force and commercial Airbus customers.

Information: Click here for the official U.S. Air Force release.