The facts on the Air Force tanker

As the award date for the Air Force’s KC-X tanker program draws near, the level of competition is reaching a fever pitch. Recently, Boeing has gone to alarming lengths to spread inaccurate and misleading information regarding both Northrop Grumman’s proposal and the workforce that would build it.

The KC-X tanker competition is between two of America’s defense giants — Boeing and Northrop Grumman. Whichever platform is selected, the Air Force will be buying an American tanker; all claims to the contrary are designed to mislead. Boeing’s KC-767 is based upon a near-obsolete 767 commercial aircraft, and Northrop Grumman’s KC-30 is based upon the modern market-leading A-330. Despite touting its 75 years of experience, Boeing has not delivered a tanker platform since 1965. The company is four years late delivering its KC-767 tanker to Italy and two years late delivering its tanker to Japan.

The KC-767 is indisputably far less capable than the KC-30 tanker. The KC-767 is 15 years older and uses outdated hydraulic flight control systems. It cannot stay in a refueling orbit as long as a KC-30, nor is it as reliable. The KC-30 outperforms Boeing’s KC-767 by not only industry standards, but most importantly, the Air Force’s standards.

The KC-30 is nearly 30 percent better than the KC-767 because it carries nearly 45,000 more pounds of fuel; offloads more; and can take off from very short runways with its superior fuel load. The KC-30 also carries more cargo and more passengers, providing far more versatility.
Great Britain, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, and reportedly Saudi Arabia have all chosen the KC-30 design over the KC-767 in the last four international tanker competitions. Its unique versatility, capability and reliability have made KC-30 the clear international choice while Italy and Japan await their KC-767s.

It is unfortunate that divisive, irrelevant issues continue to be injected into this important competition. One obvious example is the trade dispute over aircraft subsidies for development of commercial jetliners.  The Department of Defense recognized in the early stages of the tanker competition that this dispute was irrelevant, and it was eliminated; yet the issue continues to be raised. Charges continue to be made by Boeing that it is risky for U.S. military forces to rely on foreign suppliers. Ironically, Boeing and its team recently won a DoD contract for the Joint Cargo Aircraft, an Italian-built aircraft that will be assembled by Boeing in Florida. Any attempt by a contractor to wrap itself in the American flag during a competition today is disingenuous and condescending.

We in Congress are concerned about jobs in the United States. Any assertion the Northrop Grumman KC-30 program “steals” jobs from American aerospace workers and sends them to France or Europe is factually incorrect. By assembling the KC-30 tanker in new facilities in Mobile, Ala., the Northrop Grumman proposal brings thousands of jobs into the U.S. According to the Commerce Department’s job-forecasting tool, the industry standard, both Boeing and Northrop Grumman will employ the same number of American workers, about 25,000, to build its tankers.

The Air Force must buy the most modern, capable, versatile and cost-effective tanker currently available. It needs KC-X tankers that provide maximum range, payload and persistence; tankers free from technical problems; tankers that will be delivered on time and on cost; tankers that are reliable and available when called to action; and tankers that represent the best value to the military and to American taxpayers. We believe the KC-30 is the correct choice for our military and provides the best opportunity for our warfighters to succeed.

Shelby is a member of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee. Sessions is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Bonner’s district includes Mobile, where the KC-30 would be built.