A Tanker Named Desire

Rebidding of the much-maligned contract to replace the Air Force’s age-challenged refueling fleet officially opened Aug. 6 with little fanfare.

That might be because there is no final request for proposal (RPF).

When Defense Secretary (and occasional superhero) Robert M. Gates announced the decision to rebid the $35 billion Air Force tanker deal, it seemed like all parties would move forward quickly, if not immediately.

More than six weeks have passed since Gates’ July 9 decision and two months since the GAO upheld Boeing’s protest of the Feb. 29 award to Northrop Grumman and European super partner EADS. The GAO, which turns down most (nearly all) contract challenges, backed Boeing on at least eight issues, noting the Air Force had made significant errors in the contract process. (None as much fun as the awarding of a Thunderbird Jumbotron contract to a couple of flyboy cronies. But we digress.)

Tanker competitors wait (languish) while the Pentagon retools its RFP in large part to satisfy GAO concerns and lawmaker outrage.

Drafts have been sent to the Boeing, Northrop, and company, a move that, if nothing else, might stave off another costly protest. But reports have rumored Boeing might in fact bow out of the bidding. One big GAO criticism had been that the “extra credit” given by the Air Force to the Northrop Grumman entry because it could carry more fuel, though the RFP did not specify that fuel capacity or size would be a factor. Get this: The new RFP allows for these bonus bucks for “additional fuel offload amount above threshold.” Result: Boeing’s miffed and has threatened to walk. The current word is the Boys have backed off from the earlier stance.* (We recommend they fabricate specs. Just make them up. Why not? Does it really matter?)

Defense officials would like to have a contract in place before the end of the calendar year. Optimism is admirable. (We probably  will see all combat-exclusion barriers lifted before this contract is awarded. OK, maybe not.) Delusions, well, get you Jumbotrons at Thunderbird events.

Final guideline publication is “projected” for next week.

Check’s in the mail.


*At the time of this writing, Boeing again threatened to walk, saying it needed at least six months to put together a bid on the new specs. When asked if the Pentagon would have a contract by the end of 2008, the Magic Eight Ball responded, “Don’t count on it.”

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