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Now the Fun Starts: Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday he is confident that the Office of the Secretary of Defense and Air Force will be successful this time around in acquiring the KC-X, the new tanker aircraft to replace the nation's Eisenhower-era KC-135s. "I am very optimistic that this time we'll be able to get on with it," Gates told reporters during a Pentagon briefing. He said his confidence stems from the fact that OSD and the Air Force have laid out "as objective a process as possible," and one that is "fair and transparent." Time will tell, as the previous KC-X go-around ended in frustration in 2008. Gates' comments came on the eve of Friday's deadline (2:00 p.m. US East Coast time) for industry to turn in KC-X bids (see below). If all goes according to plan, the Air Force's forthcoming evaluation of the bids will culminate with the announcement of the winning tanker sometime in the fall. (Gates transcript)