Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Question of the Day

Did Boeing commit (another) strategic error in the KC-X competition, by not offering a tanker version of its 787 Dreamliner? Stephen Trimble considers that possibility, at

The US military acquisition community always SAY they want best value, but what they really want is best performance. Best value is a conveniently loose term that can be fudged to justify any decision.

That's why I wonder if Boeing botched the bid by failing to offer a tanker version of the 787.

Yes, it would mean the USAF might have to wait a few more years for production slots to become available. Yes, the all-composite fuselage would present some engineering challenges to make it a tanker. Yes, it would be more costly than a KC-30B proposal.

But, with hindsight, you have to wonder how a Boeing bid anchored on a KC-787 proposal would have turned out.

Remember that the 787 is just larger than the A330-200, but not quite so large as the 777F. Remember, too, that the 787 was designed to knock the A330-200 out of the commercial market, and it is by all accounts a formidable machine on paper (once Boeing works out the costly bugs in its production system).

And remember that the USAF above all prizes performance when it buys aircraft. One wonders in retrospect if the KC-787 could have been unbeatable, and whether Boeing made a classic strategic error by failing to promise the aircraft's availability for KC-X.

Unfortunately, Boeing's losing bid appeared to be based on a plan to keep the 767 production line open--and that aircraft was no match for the A330 in the tanker role. It appears that a 787 tanker variant was never seriously considered, nor was a 777 version. Indeed, the triple-7's long runway requirements probably eliminated it as a serious contender for the tanker contract.

Also, take a look at a lengthy response to Mr. Trimble's post, from a Boeing employee. He (?) confirms that the company's bungling was the major reason it lost the KC-X competition.

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