By Roxana Tiron - 09/24/09 06:46 PM EDT
High-level Pentagon officials promised lawmakers Thursday that a new
attempt to award a contentious midair refueling tanker contract would
The $35 billion contract has been engulfed in controversy for years,
with two of the largest defense contractors bidding on the right to
build 179 planes and lawmakers from competing districts that stand to
benefit stuck in the middle.
“We […] and Secretary [of Defense] Robert Gates, expect to be criticized equally from all sides,” Carter said.
Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn and Air Force Secretary Michael Donley also attended the meetings.
Thursday’s briefing was an attempt to limit the political fallout as
the Air Force readies a request for proposals (RFP) with an eye on
selecting a contractor in the summer of 2010. A career senior Air Force
official will have the selection authority, but that name will not be
disclosed, Donley told lawmakers.
Boeing and a team of Northrop Grumman and EADS, the parent company
of Airbus, have been competing for the contract for years. Their
congressional supporters have been wrangling over which company
deserves to win the lucrative deal. Boeing’s most vocal supporters are
from Washington state and Kansas, where the company has major
operations, while Northrop Grumman-EADS advocates hail from Alabama,
where the team plans to assemble the new tankers.
Last year, Boeing went to the Government Accountability Office and
successfully protested the Air Force’s tanker contract award to the
Northrop Grumman-EADS team in February 2008.
Carter pledged the new selection strategy will make it
“crystal-clear” to both competing companies what it will take to win
the contract. The process will also be “transparent” so that “when a
winner is chosen, everyone can understand why they won,” he said in the
The Pentagon officials stressed that the renewed competition will
not be a “rerun of the last competition.” “That competition was
criticized for being too subjective,” the briefing materials said.
“We very much need to succeed going forward,” Donley said at a
Pentagon briefing Thursday afternoon. Lynn, Carter and Donley
summarized their briefing to lawmakers at the news conference.
The two competitors will have to submit a fixed-price proposal for
four engineering and manufacturing development aircraft and the first
64 aircraft in the fleet. The competitors will have to submit an upper
limit on the price for the remaining 111 aircraft, Carter said in the
“Price is very important in this competition, but it will not be the
only factor,” Lynn told reporters at the Pentagon briefing.
The Pentagon will take into account the “wartime effectiveness” of
each plane offered and weigh that as part of the overall price. Wartime
effectiveness in essence means the evaluation of how many of each plane
offered would be needed to deal with the most stressful contingency,
Carter explained in the briefing.
If the prices offered by the competitors come “very close,” the
government will consider other features, which are not mandatory but
would add value to the tanker fleet. “The war-fighter indicated that he
would be willing to pay a modest premium for these added features,
expected to be approximately 1 percent of the total adjusted price,”
Overall, the two competitors will have to satisfy 373 mandatory
requirements essentially stemming from the military and also prove that
they can satisfy requirements in areas such as systems engineering,
program management, support, technology maturity and past performance.
There are an additional 93 requirements that are not mandatory, meant
to allow the competitors to offer features that would ultimately add
value for the military, according to Donley.
Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), the chairman of the House Appropriations
Defense panel, said Thursday said that the Air Force’s process to
select a new fleet of midair refueling tankers appears to be “both open
and less subjective.” Murtha, however, is pressing the Pentagon to buy
36 airplanes a year instead of 15, as planned now.
Meanwhile, one of Boeing’s strongest supporters in Congress vowed to
closely study the draft RFP. “The Pentagon has pledged to run a fair
and transparent competition, and I intend to hold them to their word.
In the coming days, I will be reviewing the draft RFP in detail to
ensure that it places competitors side by side in the starting gates,”
said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a Senate defense appropriator.