By Azhar Masood
The U.S. Air Force found Northrop Grumman Corporation’s (NYSE:NOC) bid to build the next generation of aerial refueling tankers superior to Boeing’s in four of the five most important selection criteria. Despite this fact, the losing bidder wants the Government Accountability Office to overturn the Air Force decision to award the contract to Northrop Grumman even though the Air Force conducted what even Boeing described as a fair, open and transparent bidding process. Here is another reason Northrop Grumman won, drawn from a list of facts included in the Mission Capability section of a redacted version of a protected Air Force selection document.
To ensure maximum refueling flexibility in a wide-ranging battlefield, the Air Force made clear it was seeking an aerial refueling tanker that had the ability to deploy up to 9,500 nautical miles from its take-off base. The Air Force selection document says Northrop Grumman’s KC-45 exceeded this threshold. In contrast, Boeing’s protest submission indicates the KC-767 failed to meet it.
In a section explaining its conclusions, the Air Force wrote: “Benefit: (Northrop Grumman) can deploy to more locations from a given starting point un-refueled” with “Better range capability” than its competition.
The KC-45’s superior range is a product of its large fuel load (20 percent more than a KC-767), greater fuel efficiency, and exceptional take-off performance. The technical Air Force document points out that this combination of attributes provides the Air Force the ability to refuel aircraft — or transfer fuel to other tankers — at greater distances, concluding that “Northrop Grumman provides better fuel offloads at all distances from bases.”
Compared to the KC-767, the KC-45 can deliver more fuel at equal ranges (decreasing the number of aircraft required to meet mission requirements) or the same fuel load from greater distances (increasing potential Air Force basing options). In its decision document the Air Force said that Northrop Grumman offered “Significant refueling advantages” and that the KC-45’s “Aerial refueling capability was compelling to my decision.”
Furthermore, the Air Force added that the KC-45’s greater refueling capability “Enables it to execute (the mission) with 22 fewer aircraft than Boeing’s…an efficiency of significant value to the government.
That’s why, in a Feb. 29 Pentagon news conference announcing Northrop Grumman’s win, Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Duncan McNabb said Northrop Grumman’s tanker, “Will keep us global by extending the range and persistence of our aircraft.”This is another reason why, as USA Today concluded in a recent editorial, “The available evidence indicates that the Air Force got the best airplane for the money.”