The Air Force took another step Tuesday toward replacing some of its aging KC-135 tankers by releasing the specifications of what it wants in its next generation of flying gasoline stations.
The specifications, technically known as a Request for Proposals, include the ability to carry at least as much fuel and fly as far as a KC-135, double as a cargo plane and refuel planes from the Navy and U.S. allies.
The two most likely competitors for the contract, worth an estimated $100 billion, are the Boeing Co. and a consortium that includes Northrop Grumman and a U.S. subsidiary of the European company that makes Airbus.
Fairchild Air Force Base is slated to get the first 32 tankers built under the contract, but they’re not likely to start appearing before 2011 at the earliest.
Under the proposal, the winning aircraft company would produce between 15 and 20 tankers per year for the first phase of the project, until a third of the KC-135 fleet, or 179 planes, is replaced. Another design could be chosen for the second and third phases of 180 planes each.
Boeing previously proposed using a modified version of its 767 commercial jet for the new tanker, but has said it might use a different model if it fits better with the final specifications in the request for proposals.
Aircraft companies have two months to tell the Air Force that they plan to bid.
In announcing the specifications, Air Force officials said they had gone through a rigorous review process for the KC-X, as the new tanker is known.
“The KC-X is the Air Force’s number one acquisition priority and will continue to be conducted in a transparent and open manner,” said Sue Payton, senior acquisition executive.
Earlier efforts to convert and lease Boeing 767s were scuttled because of questions over costs and scandals involving contracting irregularities. Air Force executive Darleen Druyun, who oversaw many of the contracts involving the company’s deals, was sent to prison in 2004 for negotiating a job at Boeing while she was working for the Air Force on the tanker lease proposal. Mike Sears, the company’s chief financial officer at the time, was also convicted and sent to prison.