May 1, 2009 in City

Air Force drafts plan for tanker

Contract bidding may open by late summer
By The Spokesman-Review
 

A draft version of the military’s specifications for its next air tanker should be out by the end of May, Air Force officials told a regional delegation Thursday.

The Air Force’s “request for proposal,” the formal invitation for companies to bid on the tanker contract, is expected by late summer.

The delegation from Greater Spokane Inc. and U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers visited the Pentagon, where they met with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and Air Force Secretary Michael Donley.

Air Force officials told them a new tanker is their “No. 1 priority,” McMorris Rodgers said during a telephone news conference Thursday after the visit.

The Pentagon has been trying for most of this decade to begin the replacement of the KC-135 tankers – the type of plane stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base – which began rolling off Boeing assembly lines more than 50 years ago. But the effort has suffered from a series of mistakes and missteps.

Most recently, the Air Force tried last year to award the $35 billion contract to a consortium that includes Northrop Grumman and the manufacturer of Airbus, but congressional investigators said they didn’t follow key government contracting rules.

The draft “request for proposal,” which will describe the new tanker’s expected capacity and capabilities, will be released by the end of May. Boeing and Northrop will have 60 days to comment before the final version is issued. The contract for as many as 179 planes is scheduled to be awarded in the first half of 2010.

Some key members of Congress have suggested splitting the contract and letting both manufacturers build some planes. The Air Force has objected, saying such a split would increase costs for training, maintenance and parts. But McMorris Rodgers said Air Force officials insisted Thursday the decision is up to Congress.

“They reiterated some of their concerns,” she added.

Military construction projects will be “few and far between” this year because of budget problems, GSI President Rich Hadley said. The top construction project for Fairchild will be the restoration of the Physical Fitness Center, where the roof collapsed last winter under heavy snow.

Contact Jim Camden at jimc@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5461.


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