On Thursday, Feb 10, 2011 Boeing and EADS submitted their final proposal for the U.S. Air Force’s KC-X tanker competition. Both proposals address the Air Forces’ mission in two different approaches with different platforms. The stakes are high, as the two companies are competing to win an initial contract for the production of 179 aircraft for $35 billion. The winner will be required to deliver the first aircraft in 2013.
Boeing is proposing to replace the current fleet of Air Force KC-135 tankers, based on the obsolete Boeing 707 with a fleet of multi-mission Boeing 767-based NewGen Tankers. According to the company, the 767 burns 24 percent less fuel than the competing A330 platform which provides the basis for the KC45 – proposed by the European Aeronautic Defence and Space (EADS) Company. “If selected, the Boeing tanker will save taxpayers tens of billions of dollars in fuel costs over the next 40 years” Boeing promises. On the other side, EADS promises its larger and more economical KC-45 will save the Air Force between 15 to 44 per cent, measured on the basis of cost per gallon of fuel consumed, based on the actual operational scenarios the Air Force is flying. “Demonstrated cost efficiency is one reason that in four straight competitions, U.S. allies have chosen the A330-based tanker that EADS North America is offering the Air Force over the older Boeing 767 tanker.” Said Ralph D. Crosby Jr., EADS North America Chairman.
Except for the big financial reward for the winner, this is also a strategic battle for Boeing, fighting its archival foe – the European Airbus group on its own land. “This decision is critical to America’s national security and its manufacturing base,” said Boeing Chairman, President and CEO Jim McNerney. “Our best-of-Boeing team has offered the most capable and fuel-efficient tanker that will enable the U.S. Air Force to continue serving as the world’s finest air refueling provider without breaking future defense budgets.” McNemey added, saying the air force program will support 50,000 American jobs with more than 800 suppliers in more than 40 states.
“Our NewGen Tankers will be built using a proven low-risk, in-line manufacturing approach similar to the highly successful 737-based Navy P-8A, by an already trained and highly experienced U.S. work force at existing Boeing facilities that have delivered more than 2,000 tankers and 1,000 commercial 767s,” said Jim Albaugh, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
While Boeing is fighting a defensive battle to win the KC-X, for EADS, winning the program will be a strategic victory, with the U.S. military establishing the European ‘beachhead’ in the Continental USA. The European consortium plans to produce the KC-45 tanker by the EADS North America division, along with commercial freighter aircraft at a new aircraft production center in Mobile, Alabama, using a supplier base of hundreds of U.S. companies in more than 40 states. The company said it will employ 48,000 American workers to build these tankers.