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September 16, 2009—The Air Force will be the source-selection authority in the KC-X tanker contest, which is set to restart shortly, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Wednesday in his remarks at AFA's Air & Space Conference.

His announcement, which returns to the Air Force the final say in deciding upon the new tanker design that will replace its Eisenhower-era KC-135s, was greeted with a round of applause.

"I have confidence that the KC-X selection authority is in good hands with the service's leadership team," Gates told the audience in referring to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz.

Gates stripped the Air Force of the tanker source-selection authority last year following the service's attempt to procure Northrop Grumman's KC-30 tanker after a bitter, high-stakes competition against Boeing's KC-767 ended in controversy and stalemate.

Gates intended for the Office of the Secretary of Defense to be at the helm last fall in a renewed attempt to move the program forward, but then shelved those plans until after the Presidential election due to the charged atmosphere that had developed between parties in the Pentagon, industry, and on Capitol Hill.

The Obama Administration's new Pentagon team, including a held-over Gates, then decided to re-examine the issue and determine the new path ahead.

Although the Air Force will now be the lead again, Gates said OSD "will continue to have a robust oversight."

And he reiterated the importance of getting the tanker competition "done soon and done right." He said, "We are committed to the integrity of the selection process and cannot afford the kind of let-downs, parochial squabbles, and corporate food fights that have bedeviled this effort over the last number of years."