U.S. Air Force Tanker Selection is Driving Me Crazy

By Robert Mark on March 6th, 2008

Once the Pentagon chose the Airbus A330 over the Boeing 767 to begin replacing over 500 aging Boeing KC-135 tankers, it was a sure bet that sparks would fly. And they did, within hours of the selection.

The Boeing folks of course are really upset at losing a $35 billion contract. Yes, that billion with a “B.” But then some might say Boeing never deserved to win in the first place since the A330 is technologically superior to the Boeing. The first 767 rolled off the assembly line almost 30 years ago. The A330 series took to the air in the early 1990s. For the Boeing folks, losing the tanker contract also means the days of the 767 assembly line and its jobs are very short indeed, just a few years in fact.

kc45Of course, there are those in Washington that realize John McCain’s hand in the discussions, especially since he led the fight against Boeing the first time the competition began a few years back. A number of senior Boeing officials ended up in the slammer amidst corruption charges that eventually halted the entire tanker competition process. Some say Boeing never stood a chance once the Republican presidential nominee and hand picked successor to George Bush got behind Airbus.

Then too, there is the national security concern of handing over the production of strategic Air Force vehicles to a bunch of those Europeans. This is enough to make people as nervous – if not more so – than Cessna’s choice of a Chinese company to assemble the Skycatcher. I know I won’t be able to sleep. Of course I can’t sleep anyway worrying about making the next mortgage payment anyway, but no matter.

Of course, the Airbus folks are not in this project alone. They were smart enough to link up with a U.S. company to help them land the deal, in this case Northrop/Grumman, a group that needed a good defense deal probably more than Boeing if it was to have any future position in the industry.

OK, wait. Now I think I have this straight.

I should stand against the Airbus despite the fact that its a superior airplane to the Boeing. And I should be for Boeing despite the corruption at that behemoth. And I should be against Airbus winning this contract because we’re potentially sharing vital national secrets with the EU folks. But I thought we’d been allies for 60 or 70 years now???

Wait, wait, now I have it.

We should definitely be against the Airbus deal because we’ll be sending valuable U.S. jobs to a bunch of … well, Europeans, right? Hang on. I think Airbus is going to build part of the tanker in Alabama aren’t they?

Sorry, but I’m really getting confused. Sounds like someone’s flip-flopping here to me. I’m going to write my Congressman about this mess once I figure out what it is I’m really upset about that is.


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11 Responses to “U.S. Air Force Tanker Selection is Driving Me Crazy”

  1. Adam Webster Says:

    good post (again!)

    I thought the same thing btw.. there was no way it would go well.. no matter who got the contract.

    I think the entire air force should be 737’s (let’s do that post together, want to?)

    VARIANTS proposed by the Adam Webster – Aviation Renegade

    a) the ground attack warthog style 737 (big.. yet nimble!)
    b) the multi role interceptor / fighter bomber 737 (we have extra spars and stringers for extra G’s!)… and cut the wings back a bit for those zippy cruise moments when the Captain hits the Han Solo style warp drive button
    c) the “spooky gunship” where the whole left side has Phoenix gattling guns… 1000 rounds per minute.. but instead of bullets.. they’ll be rotary Howitzers (heck, we’ve got the room!)
    d) awacs – easy & natural!
    e) transport – easy & natural!
    f) tanker – easy & natural!
    g) STOL – easy & natural! (ask the Canucks for help here)

    and best of all.. Boeing can do it all.. or.. maybe an A319/320/321 family? :)

  2. Jack Binder Says:

    We must STOP THE AIRBUS DEAL. This is an Outrage and an insult to all Americans.

    Outsourcing our military to France is the most ridiculous concept this nation could envision.

    Please do your part to demand this be nullified and reveresed.


  3. Ron Says:

    I agree — Airbus deserved to win that contract. Their offering is superior to the 767 for this application. The “buy American” argument never really held much water with me. That’s like saying “buy a Ford because it’s American, even if it’s an inferior vehicle”.

    If we really want to help the industry, we should hope that Boeing loses the contract unless they really have the superior product. Only in this way will Boeing have incentive to improve their product line. Subsidizing an inferior product will only postpone the pain and make the eventual fall from grace that much worse when their line can no longer be propped up.

  4. Mark T. Says:

    Yet another Republican blunder. Sell as much of the government off to whoever will buy it (Lockmart FSS), let emerging countries like China flood our economy with crappy, lead-laden trinkets of junk, and now this, the final blow: letting a French/English/German company that has its own government-backing, build critical U.S. defense systems.

    I really hope the flight crews remember to convert to liters, kilograms, and croissants! Remember the Air Canada 767 that ran out of fuel due to incorrect fuel measurements?

  5. Adam Webster Says:


    The water is so muddy with what happened before this whole thing started that a blanket statement like “is an outrage and insult to all Americans” dodges the main point since the corruption of the bid process is actually the real “dis” … so long as we are talking trash talk here.

    Yes, Boeing and some of our elected officials went doo doo on the flag by subverting the process.. but hey.. it was for Boeing’s benefit… so it was, at a bare minimum, patriotic doo doo, no?

    But, the larger question, “What’s fair you ask?” I’d like to see Bombardier get a crack at the tanker.. and I think the US should finance all the R&D so that Bombardier can then leap into the “really big airliner” business with US tax payer dollars.

    Now that is a conspiracy that I think we can all get behind (after all… Canadians, while distasteful, are not as quite as distasteful as the French.)

    I’ll send sketches of a really really long CRJ 900 XXL with an extra two engines.

  6. Eric Says:

    I’d get more excited about this if it were a bomber or a fighter. Partnering with Northrup Grumman and building the planes in the US for me makes this ok if it gets the USAF a better tanker and better interoperability with allied nations.

    Boeing will survive. They have an order book for 787’s alone that will take years and years to build not to mention 737’s and 747’s even. They are also partnered with Lockheed Martin on the F22 and the FA-35.

    I still hate the French though. Just want to make that clear…


  7. Park Says:

    Good Post,

    I am confused too about the USAF selection on the Tanker .

    They set out with the Specification Requirement to replace the aging KC-135 fleet. KC-135 is a mid size airplane .The USAF Calls its a KC-X replacement.

    Than the next is the KC-Z replacemnet to replace the Tanker with KC-10 (DC-10) Size.

    In the end, because of John McCain and his associates pressured the USAF to change the Spec requirement for KC-X to have Air Bus on board.

    The A330-200 has a bigger size than KC-10 or the KC-Z program that the USAF wants to change later

    So, it makes sense to replace with a model like Boeing 767-200 to conform to KC-X a Mid size Tanker replacement that is smaller than KC-10 size .

    Now the USAF ended up selected the A330-200 as Tanker or KC-45 that is not a Size, the KC-X program reuired the bidder to submit the proposal to replace the KC-135 Size Tanker

    I would prefer to write to my Senators and Congress to clarify this for me too .

  8. Mags1023 Says:

    I am sure Airbus’ proposal looks great on paper. Just as I am sure it looked good for the A380 and look at what that program has developed in to. Ask Fedex how happy they are with Airbus…….. Don’t these people look at past performance when they are evaluating these proposals? Shame on Boeing and Northrup for not teaming together in the first place. This was a big enough contract for both of these US based groups to share and not even have brought Airbus in to the equation.

  9. Mike Says:

    Some awful jingoistic nationalistic claptrap on this topic The best bidder won – period.

    To Mags: Look at how happy the Japanese and Italian air force are with Boeing, years late and with serious teething trouble to the point that the Italians almost canceled the deal. The 787 Dreamliner is massively delayed – 30 months at this stage, so I’m unclear what point you are trying to make?
    The selection of the Airbus will bizarrely create far more jobs in the US then the Boeing option would. In any case Boeing would have outsourced plenty of the components of the tanker to other countries much like the 787 will be whenever it gets delivered.
    Maybe the Europeans should ban Boeing from any of its contracts? or is free trade a one way street these days?

  10. Tom Says:

    OK, cute, but really… too much.

    The first 767 entered service in Sept. 8, 1982, since then 767 have flown more than 7.7 million flights, and carried millions of passengers.

    A330 entered service about a decade later (1993?).

    yet this cute commentary exaggerates the difference through artistic use of language. The difference is about 10 years, not nearly so important as it’s made out to be.

  11. Tom Says:

    Is there anyone who thinks the Boeing would ever win a tanker contract for the French Air Force?

    I thought not. So much for “or is free trade a one way street these days?”

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