Two defense experts stepped up the pressure this week to end the political debate over the next generation aerial refueling tanker, and move forward -- even while acknowleding that another round of delays is possible, at least in the short term.
Rebecca Grant, president of IRIS Independent Research, considers aerial refueling critical to national defense, particularly in the Pacific, and predicts that next month's expected selection may be delayed yet again by a few more months, calling the fierce competion for the $35 billion contract one of the "longest and most complicated acquisitions ever." She's written a white paper called "9 Secrets of the Tanker War," which examines the decade-long effort to choose a replacement for the KC-135.
It's an interesting read and some may conclude she favors the EADS bid over the Boeing bid. She insists she's not taking sides except to point out that when limiting examination only to the needs of the Pacific, which is her primary focus, a tanker that has greater offload capability and longer "linger" times would seem preferable. More on that can be found in a posting at DoD Buzz, along with a potent reader comment thread.
Meanwhile, another defense expert, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Norman Selp, added his voice to those expressing concern over continued delays, telling reporters Oct. 19 at the National Press Club that aerial refueling is critical to combat commanders:
"I think everyone's worst nightmare is a KC-135 disappears over the mid-Atlantic," he said on a Federal News Radio segment about the tanker issue. "How did it go down? Will we ever find out? And is it because of an aging aircraft, and what does that mean about the risks that we have to do with our sons and daughters flying that aircraft. So that urgency is there."
Having just spent 42 hours or so flying in KC-135s over the past week and a half, including two North Atlantic crossings between Fairchild and RAF Mildenhall, the scenario described by Selp was a bit too close for personal comfort. It's a route that Fairchild crews fly at least once a week shuttling new equipment and personnel to Kyrgyzstan and back.