Pentagon KC-X competition back on radar

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says competition for construction of a new Air Force KC-X airborne fuel tanker could be restarted in late 2009.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the U.S. Department of Defense hopes to restart a competition to buy Air Force refueling jets (dubbed KC-X) in coming months, with the goal of releasing a formal solicitation in early 2010.

Gates' comments came on Jan. 27 during testimony before the U.S. House Armed Services Committee. Gates also told a Senate panel that “the best way forward” is for the Air Force to run a “competitive process” that “meets all technical requirements and gets the best deal for the taxpayer.”

In September 2008, Gates halted a competition between Boeing and a team composed of Northrop Grumman and EADS for a $35 billion, 179-plane contract. That race was launched after congressional auditors last summer upheld Boeing’s protest of the Air Force’s February 2008 decision to buy the flying gas stations from the Northrop-EADS team.

In September, Gen. Norton Schwartz, Air Force chief of staff, said the service had prepared for senior Pentagon officials several plans that would last as few as eight months or could span 48 months. At that time, Schwartz indicated one option would have been to hold an abbreviated competition “that could just include an RFP.” The timeline Gates proposed before the House panel suggests that President Barack Obama’s defense officials will run a traditional competition, not a speedier one.