Secretary Gates cancels KC-X air-refueling solicitation

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Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has cancelled the competition for the $35 billion Air Force tanker contract.

Secretary Gates told the House Armed Services Committee Sept. 10 that he decided the contract cannot be awarded by January, and that rather than award a contract that will be contested, the better idea is to let the next administration make its decision.

“It has now become clear that the solicitation and award process cannot be accomplished by January,” he said. “Thus, I believe that rather than hand the next administration an incomplete and possibly contested process, we should cleanly defer this procurement to the next team.”

Air Force officials had awarded the contract for what’s known as the KC-X to the Northrop-Grumman/EADS/Airbus consortium, which prompted a protest from rival bidder Boeing. Inspectors in the General Accountability Office found irregularities in the awarding of the contract, and Secretary Gates re-opened the bidding process on July 9.

Secretary Gates told the representatives that the department has been trying for seven years to find the proper way to replace the current fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers. During that time, the process has become most complex and emotional, Secretary Gates said, partly because of Defense Department mistakes.

“It is my judgment that in the time remaining to us, we cannot complete a competition that will be viewed as fair and competitive in this highly-charged environment,” the secretary said. “I believe the resulting cooling-off period will allow the next administration to view objectively the military requirements and craft a new acquisition strategy for the KC-X as it sees fit.”

Secretary Gates said he’s been assured that the current KC-135 fleet can be adequately maintained to satisfy Air Force missions for the near future, and sufficient funds will be recommended in the fiscal 2009 and follow-on budgets to maintain the KC-135 at high mission-capable rates.

Jim Garamone (AFPN)

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