Jul 02 2008

Shelby to Gates: Tanker Needed Now

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) today sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates to urge the Department to move forward expeditiously in a tanker acquisition strategy.  Full text of the letter is below.

July 2, 2008

The Honorable Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20301-1000

Dear Mr. Secretary,

I am writing regarding the U.S. Air Force KC-X tanker replacement procurement.  The Air Force has an urgent need to replace its aging tanker fleet and we must move forward without undue delay.

On June 18, 2008, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) sustained Boeing’s protest of the tanker award to the Northrop Grumman/EADS team.  GAO stated that the Air Force made errors in their selection process.  However, GAO’s analysis does not reflect the merits of the tankers’ capabilities, but identifies procedural flaws in the acquisition process.  It is important to note that out of the 111 separate complaints filed by Boeing, the GAO accepted only 8.  The GAO found nothing that contradicts the initial Air Force conclusion that the Northrop Grumman/EADS KC-45 was the winner.

Unfortunately, some of my congressional colleagues are using the GAO’s recommendations in an effort to vitiate the original award and simply hand the tanker contract to Boeing.  In fact, a bill has been introduced to do just that.  This legislation would force the Air Force, without a second thought to competition, to procure an antiquated, less capable plane that clearly does not meet the needs of our armed forces nearly as well as the KC-45.  This approach is irresponsible, short-sighted and harmful to both the warfighter and the nation. 

Mr. Secretary, the average age of our current tanker is now older than the average age of the pilot who flies it.  Not only do we need to quickly deliver new tankers to our airmen, we need to ensure the replacement aircraft is the best available option for both the warfighter and the taxpayer.  Parochial interests should not cloud the decision-making process of our defense acquisitions.

Acknowledging GAO’s recommendation that a full re-competition is not warranted, I urge the Department to quickly move forward with an acquisition strategy that follows the established competitive process. 

Thank you in advance for your consideration. 


Richard Shelby