—Michael C. Sirak
February 28, 2008— An industry protest by the losing bidder in the Air Force’s KC-X tanker recapitalization contest could have far-reaching implications that cost USAF valuable time and money and potentially place those pilots flying the aged KC-135s set for replacement at greater risk, Gen. Michael Moseley, Chief of Staff, said this morning during a meeting with reporters.
“Gosh, I hope there’s not a protest,” Moseley told the Defense Writers Group Thursday in Washington, D.C., only a day, if not just hours, before the Air Force is expected to announce the winner in the hard-fought competition between Boeing’s KC-767 and the Northrop Grumman/EADS KC-30.
Each industry team is vying to supply 179 new tankers to USAF over the next 15 years under a highly coveted multi-billion-dollar KC-X program. There is speculation that the stakes are so high for each team and the political pressures so intense on Capitol Hill that the loser will inevitably lodge a protest with the Government Accountability Office over the Air Force’s forthcoming decision.
Moseley said every month of delay caused by a protest “costs you money and time.” Just look at the impact that a series of protests has had in the Air Force’s CSAR-X helicopter replacement program, he said. CSAR-X has been stymied since November 2006 by wrangling over the methods that the Air Force used to crown Boeing the winner over Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky. The Air Force doesn’t expect to name a new winner based on a new evaluation, and hopefully, resolve the impasse, until mid year, if not later.
“We have lost $800 million in this protest and we have lost over a year to year-and-a-half of operational time on not being able to field an airplane,” Moseley said of the CSAR-X program. And for every month of delay, the Air Force is forced to fly its current HH-60G rescue helicopters that are well past their prime and limited in capability.
As with the CSAR-X, “a long, drawn-out protest” in the KC-X program would force the Air Force to fly its Eisenhower-era KC-135s for longer than desired, Moseley said. “To me, that is a big deal,” he said. “It’s a big deal for the people I ask to get in the airplane. It’s a big deal for the people I ask to take the airplane to combat.”
Moseley said the service strived throughout the KC-X competition to conduct the most transparent, open, and defensible evaluation of the two bids. “If there [are] any issues that get protested to the GAO, let them look at it. If we have missed something, we will fix it like we have with the helicopter,” he said.
The Chief reiterated the Air Force’s message on industry protests: “I don’t say it in a mean sense, but this is not about lawyers and companies. This is about operational capability and fielding capability for the country.”
Ultimately, Moseley acknowledged that he cannot control the lawyers. But, he said, “from a service chief’s perspective. I would ask them to think about the country and think about the people that are flying the airplanes.”
The Defense Acquisition Board, the senior oversight panel chaired by John Young, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, convened on Monday to deliberate on whether to approve the Air Force’s choice of the KC-X winner and to decide whether to allow the KC-X program to progress to its next stage: system development and demonstration.
Once Young issues a document known as the acquisition decision memorandum, the Air Force may announce the winner and award the SDD contract. Then it’s a waiting game to see if a protest will come.
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