Wednesday, September 03, 2008

We Concur

Tanker Split Buy Bad Idea: AMC Commander

At a recent breakfast with defense reporters, the leader of Air Mobility Command, General Arthur Lichte, nixed the idea of dividing the tanker contract between rivals Boeing and Northrop-Grumman. And, according to DefenseBuzz, Lichte is all-but-resigned to another round of protests between the defense giants.

On the split buy, which has largely been pushed by Boeing supporters, Lichte said that if he is ordered by Congress to handle two different tanker fleets then he will salute and implement. But he clearly doesn’t want it to happen. “I’m not really in favor of it,” he said, and ticked off the reasons why: two logistics lines, two training programs, two … well, you get the idea.

Still, he was careful to leave the door open. “However, if you were to tell me that was the only way to get out of [the current situation] then I’d take it,” Lichte said.


[Lichte] is worried that “the poisonous nature of some of the comments” that have come from the two companies and their supporters will make it very difficult to “make peace with everybody.” Making his job even more complicated, he is resigned to another protest. He told reporters at the Defense Writers Group breakfast that “when the RFP comes out I wouldn’t be surprised if one side or the other files a protest.”

Boeing and Northrop Grumman should note that Lichte said several times, in several different ways, that he really hoped no one would file another protest after the next contract award. I asked him if he had told his bosses there was a cutoff date for a contract award beyond which the risk to the fleet would become overwhelming. “I have not come up with a date,” he said, adding that “we need a new tanker now” and he does not care which plane is picked as long as something gets picked.”

We can always hope.

H/T to Sean Meade at Aviation Week's Ares defense blog.


RussInSoCal said...

I do not concur. I think a split buy was/is the best way to bring online more tanking and cargo capability to a heavily used force that is lacking and 'graying' in current USAF inventories.

I think a the split buy would invigorate the Northwest, Midwest and Southeast US industrial sectors.

The Split Buy leaves all parties equal parts slighted and rewarded. It hastens the fielding KC-X assets to the field and stops the Washington DC dithering.

The KC-135 airframes have a good 10-15 years left of service given their low usage during the '70s and '80s. But sooner or later a decision has to be made and enforced.

Ed Rasimus said...

We should first note that military procurement should not be about invigorating industrial sectors, nor should it involve bleating by losing contractors in a competition. (That's particularly true if the bleater had already screwed the pooch on a done deal by illegal kick-backs and shenanigans.)

It should be about requirements. And, the determinant for those should be the customer, i.e. the USAF.

It will always be political, but the less of that the better.

Then look at airline with "split" fleets. The single airline that is currently and consistently profitable in the US is Southwest. What makes them different (despite operating under incredible political restrictions finagled by American Airlines on their Love Field Hq)? They are a single type fleet--nothing but B737s.

Split fleet means double training, double maintenance, double supply chain, lost interoperability, system incompatibilities and massive overhead/headaches.

There simply is no possible justification for not buying single type. None.

Jimmy said...

Spook & Ed,

With the current flight control software, we can minimize the operating characteristics of 330 and 767/777, so that, to the pilot, they handle the same. Would limit the flight envelope some, but we're not talking about fighters here.

That and plus a common flight deck/knobology, we can use the same flight training pipeline.

If they use the same engines (or the same engine cores) as well, which they can, the maintenance and maintenance training pipeline would also be largely the same.

So there are ways to minimize the duplicate tails of a split buy. We are not living in the 40s when every plane type has its own engine and everything. We live in the age where we can consolidate engines and have the same cockpits.

Jimmy said...

Meant to say "minimize differences in the flight control characteristics of 330 and 767/777".

PCSSEPA said...

With his comment,"I don't care which plane gets picked", Gen. Arthur Lichte expresses his disgust and frustration with the current process. He also shows why he should put a little more thought into his statements. A Four Star like Lichte should keep comments like those to himself. He is talking about taxpayer dollars here. It was a corrupt civilian Air Force employee and a corrupt Boeing employee who started us down this chuckhole filled road and it is going to be a tough path out of it.

Yes we need a new airframe and we needed it yesterday, but we have to get the best airframe at the price we are willing to pay. The competition has to be fair and the specs have to be the same. Lichte needs to do a tour on the pad for his outburst. I am certain that lower ranking officer would be reprimanded for such an irresponsible outburst.

He should care which plane gets picked, because the lives of U.S. servicemen and their mission are depending on it. Take the 6 months to get it right and then move on and build the damn thing. May the best plane win.