Thursday, June 19, 2008

Tanker Tangle

Boo Boo. Major Boo Boo. The General Accountability Office, GAO, just declared the USAF jet tanker competition was unfair, and ought to be redone. That's gonna set the program back another year, and soak up more millions of dollars redoing all the paperwork. Plus generate more hard feelings no matter whether Airbus or Boeing gets the contract in the end. No wonder SecDef Gates fired the Air Force civilian head and chief of staff last month. This is a disgrace to the Air Force. Once upon a time I was an Air Force officer. I used to look back with some pride on my service. That's harder to do now.
The tanker selection is not rocket science. It's just buying off-the-shelf jet transport planes, and replacing the seats with fuel tanks. Deciding between Airbus and Boeing is something the commercial airlines have figured out how to do. If Delta and Southwest can pick between them why can't USAF? Why cannot USAF have some Air Force Manual on airplane buying, and comply with it?
Were the Air Force officers on the selection board so unprofessional as to take out personal grudges on the bidders? And the senior Air Force leadership let them do it? Reading between the lines in Aviation Week one gets the impression that Boeing had pissed off a number of Air Force people.
Why did the Air Force ask Boeing to bid a small aircraft and Airbus to bid a big one? And then cite the advantages of large size after selecting Airbus? There are obvious advantages to big planes and to small planes, and after operating jet tankers for half a century, the Air Force ought to be able to decide which size tanker best suits their needs. The request for proposal should have specified the aircraft size.
In fact, Airbus and Boeing jet transports are so similar that passengers are hard pressed to tell which one they are flying in. The only real selection issue is price. The hungriest company will offer the best price. The competing price quotes did not appear in Aviation Week, let alone the clueless MSM. Did the Air Force keep the price secret? Does the Air Force even care what the price is?
The Air Force officers responsible for this bungle should be disciplined, and they oughta outsource the next selection to the commercial airlines.

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