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In setback to Boeing, report says new tankers not needed

Matthew Daly Associated Press

WASHINGTON — There is no compelling reason for the Air Force to immediately acquire 100 air refueling tankers from The Boeing Co., a new Defense Department report concludes in another blow to the controversial deal.

The report by the Defense Science Board says that, contrary to Air Force claims, corrosion of the aging tanker fleet is “manageable” and several options exist to refurbish the fleet.

If officials are willing to tolerate increased maintenance costs, “you can defer major near-term . . . investments” to replace the tanker fleet, the report said.

“There is no compelling material or financial reason to initiate a replacement program prior to the completion of” a lengthy analysis of alternatives and other studies, the report said.

The report has not been released, but members of Congress were briefed on it late Wednesday.

It follows a report released last month by the Pentagon’s inspector general, who concluded the Pentagon should not move forward on the $23.5 billion plan until significant changes are made.

In a highly critical report, Inspector General Joseph Schmitz said procedural and financial problems with the deal could cause the government to spend up to $4.5 billion more than necessary.

Once the changes are made, however, there is no compelling reason not to complete the deal, Schmitz said.

A Pentagon official, who asked not to be identified, said the Defense Science Board “has offered the department several very good suggestions” that will be considered as officials make a final decision on the tanker deal.

Boeing spokesman Doug Kennett said the company had not seen the actual report, but stood ready to assist the Air Force.

“We believe that the 767 is clearly the best solution to the nation’s aerial tanker needs,” he said.

A watchdog group said the report was the latest evidence that the Air Force should not go through with the tanker deal, in which the Air Force would lease 20 model 767 planes for use as refueling tankers and purchase another 80 planes.

The planes would be made at Boeing’s Everett, plant and modified for military use in Wichita, Kan.

“The Defense Science Board report is further confirmation that there is no need to proceed with the purchase or lease of the current boondoggle until a robust analysis of all options for tanker replacement is completed,” said Keith Ashdown, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based advocacy group.

The report confirms that the Air Force and Boeing are “crying wolf over the corrosion problems in the fleet to create an emergency that never existed,” Ashdown said. “The current tanker fleet is old, but efforts to combat corrosion are working and can be managed in a fiscally responsible manner.”

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