On 25 April 2006 the Air Force issued a Request For Information, or RFI, for its tanker recapitalization program. The Tanker Systems Modernization Systems Squadron of Aeronautical Systems Center's Mobility Systems Wing here sent out the RFI for publication in Federal Business Opportunities and will manage the program. By issuing the RFI, the Air Force restarted the requirements and acquisition processes necessary for a traditional competitive acquisition program to replace the KC-135 Stratotanker. The RFI requested information on KC-135 replacement platforms that is consistent with the findings of the Analysis of Alternatives, which focuses on a commercial-derivative tanker aircraft in the 300,000- to 1 million-pound-take-off weight class. The RFI asks for vendor inputs on capabilities to complement the recapitalization effort, such as specialized commercial aerial refueling services and KC-135 modifications and upgrades.
KC-X tankers will provide increased aircraft availability, more adaptable technology, and greater overall capability than the current inventory of KC-135E tankers they will replace. Enhancements to every aspect of aircraft operation will provide the Joint warfighter with more flexible employment options. Recapitalizing tankers will ensure the viability of this vital national capability. Tankers make the Air Bridge possible and are essential to the success of joint and coalition military operations. Tankers are critical to the deployment and employment of joint combat power, and are crucial to rapid response to combat and humanitarian relief operations.
Retiring operationally cost-prohibitive and less capable aircraft allows the Air Force to focus on recapitalization and invest in transformational capabilities. The KC-135E is significantly less capable than the KC-135R with less fuel offload capability and fails to meet world-wide airspace and noise restrictions. To that end, the KC-X replacing the KC-135 will revolutionize the way the Air Force does business. The KC-X will be able to multi-point refuel joint and coalition aircraft, carry cargo or passengers and self-deploy.
The primary mission of the KC-X aircraft will be to provide world-wide, day/night, adverse weather aerial refueling on the same sortie to receiver capable United States (US), allied, and coalition military aircraft (including unoccupied aircraft). The KC-X will provide robust sustained aerial refueling capability to support global attack, air-bridge, deployment, sustainment, employment redeployment, homeland defense, theater support to joint, allied, and coalition air forces, and specialized national defense missions. The inherent flexibility of the KC-X platform will accommodate a diversity of secondary missions in a manner that will not significantly impact the primary aerial refueling missions. These include airlift, communications gateway, and aeromedical evacuation.. The KC-X program acquisition strategy is focused on an existing commercial, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), or equivalent, certified transport aircraft modified to meet USAF requirements.
Release of the KC-X request for proposal (RFP) on 30 January 2007 set the stage for a fair, full and open competition that will lead to the fielding of a flexible and versatile platform. The resultant tanker will possess numerous advantages over the current KC-135 fleet. In today's dynamic political-military environment, and with fiscal constraints in mind, the Air Force must maximize the abilities of each platform.
The KC-X RFP defined an integrated, capability-based, best-value approach and is the first third of the fleet-wide tanker replacement program that will leverage new technologies and industry best practices. The RFP includes specific factors for assessing the capability contribution of each offeror. Along with cost and assessments of past performance and proposal risk, these factors provide the source selection authority with excellent means to determine the best value between proposals of significantly differing capabilities and cost.
The RFP stipulates nine primary key performance parameters:
1) Air refueling capability (same sortie boom and drogue capable)
2) Fuel offload and range at least as great as the KC-135
3) Compliant CNS/ATM equipment
4) Airlift capability
5) Ability to take on fuel while airborne
6) Sufficient force protection measures
7) Ability to network into the information available in the battle space
8) Survivability measures (defensive systems, EMP hardening, chem/bio protection, etc.)
9) Provisioning for a multi-point refueling system to support Navy and Allied aircraft
The final RFP defined an integrated, capability-based, best-value approach. The RFP included specific factors for assessing the capability contribution of each offeror. Along with cost and assessments of past performance and proposal risk, these factors provide the source selection authority with excellent means to determine the best value between proposals of significantly differing capabilities and cost.
The Government will procure up to 179 KC-X aircraft over a 15-20 year period. SDD, which includes the manufacture of four (4) test aircraft, is scheduled to start in FY07, and low-rate initial production (LRIP) is projected to start in FY10. Engines for the SDD aircraft will be contractor-furnished equipment. The initial contract will develop the KC-X and procure up to a total of 80 SDD and production aircraft. The remainder will be procured through follow-on contracts. As the initial phase of a comprehensive aerial refueling recapitalization strategy, the KC-X Program will begin replacement of the war-fighting capability provided by the current aerial refueling fleet. After approximately one-third of the fleet capability is replaced, and prior to proceeding with follow-on aircraft, the Air Force will conduct analysis to determine if a new platform type is warranted, or whether to continue with the current production aircraft. If the KC-X is no longer viable, the KC-X Program will end and a separately competed, KC-Y Program will begin.
The Air Force had gone through a rigorous review process for KC-X and has validated that the RFP accurately reflects the requirements as laid out by the warfighter. The Air Force remained committed to a full and open competition and will continue to be conducted in a transparent and deliberate manner. The Air Force expected to award the KC-X contract in 2007.
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