BREAKING NEWS: Air Force delays tanker bid process

Published 7:02 am Wednesday, September 10, 2008

By Staff
The U.S. Air Force on Wednesday announced it would cancel the current bid process for a new tanker, which delays the awarding of the bid until the next administration.
Mobile's Northrup Grumman, in partnership with EADS North America, has been in contention for the bid. The Air Force actually awarded the project to Northrup Grumman, but a protest from rival Boeing brought the process back to a bidding situation.
"It has now become clear that the solicitation and award process cannot be accomplished by January," Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates said in a statement. "Thus, I believe that rather than hand the next administration an incomplete and possibly contested process, we should cleanly defer this procurement to the next team."
The Air Force had awarded the contract for what's known as the KC-X to the Northrop-Grumman/EADS/Airbus consortium, which prompted a protest from rival bidder Boeing. The General Accountability Office found irregularities in the awarding of the contract, and Gates determined to re-open the bidding process on July 9.
Escambia County economic development officials have said a Mobile-based tanker project could bring more jobs to southwest Alabama, including Escambia County, through spinoff industries.
Alabama officials decried the delay.
"It is unacceptable that the Department of Defense would abdicate its responsibility to our men and women in uniform," said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala. "This misguided decision clearly places business interests above the interests of the warfighter. We are a nation at war, sending our pilots into battle on planes that are largely older than they are. This approach is irresponsible, shortsighted and harmful to both the warfighter and the nation."
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said he found the decision "bewildering."
"The Air Force has been trying for six years now to replace its aging fleet of tankers," Riley said. "Yet another delay does nothing except put our warfighters at greater risk. For that reason alone, I can't understand why anyone would make this decision. At some point, we have to say we are going to put our warfighters first – not the suppliers, not politics. I still agree with the statement Secretary Gates made at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base on April 21 when he said: 'All I can say is that I think it would be a real shame if the tanker were to get delayed yet again. We're long past due in terms of getting on with this program.'"
Gates told House Armed Services committee representatives that the department has been trying for seven years to find the proper way to replace the current fleet of KC-135 tankers. Over that time, the process has become most complex and emotional, Gates said, partly because of Defense Department mistakes.
"It is my judgment that in the time remaining to us, we cannot complete a competition that will be viewed as fair and competitive in this highly-charged environment," Gates said. "I believe the resulting cooling-off period will allow the next administration to view objectively the military requirements and craft a new acquisition strategy for the KC-X as it sees fit."