This picture shows a Royal Australian Air Force A330 MRTT whose KC45 variant just lost the competition to Boeing Company KC46A that will be based on a modernized Boeing 767.

Defense officials announced to day that the Boeing Company was being awarded the $30 Billion plus contract to build the US Air Force next tanker. The announcement was made February 24th,2011 at the pentagon in presence of Air Force Chief of Staff  General Norton A. Schwartz and deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III. The contract apportions initial $3.5 Billion for early engineering work and manufacture of four aircraft followed by another 14 aircraft by 2018 for a grand total of 179 aircraft.

Officials expressed confidence that the Boeing offering was superior to EADS proposition in delivering value to the tax payer and badly needed capabilities to the Air Force. The rigorous 372 mandatory requirement process finally determined that the KC46A variant of the Boeing 767 would become the US tanker of the future, to the detriment of EADS KC45 derived from the proven Airbus 330 MRTT solution.

A difficult contract.

On our April 20th 2010 General Accounting Office review, we observed that European company  EADS was entering the latest round of the competition on its own ( after having lost support form US based Northrop Grumman). At that point EADS was confident that a tanker platform based on the Airbus 330 MRTT (Multi Role Tanker Transport already flying with 4 air forces) could be built in a specially constructed manufacturing plant in Mobile, Alabama.

This latest announcement should mark the closing chapter for one of the most tumultuous Air Force acquisition program to date.  The program was first initiated in 2003 as an Air Force lease for 100 KC-767 from Boeing.  Allegations of corruption in the grossly overpriced contract involving Boeing executives led to criminal conviction and the first failure to find a new tanker. By February 2008, the EADS-Northrop  Grumman team had been officially awarded the contract that was overturned in June of  the same year after GAO determined that the Air Force had made errors during the bidding process. By spring of 2010 EADS had been left without its US partner Northrop Grumman to battle with Boeing.  In all likelihood the current ruling will survive an EADS challenge and the KC46A will become the Air Force tanker of the future relieving the dramatic operational shortcomings of the aging KC-135/KC-10 fleet.

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