On top of that, Air Force Gen. Arthur Lichte, commander of Air Mobility Command, is worried that "the poisonous nature of some of the comments" that have come from the two companies and their supporters will make it very difficult to "make peace with everybody." Making his job even more complicated, he is resigned to another protest. He told reporters at the Defense Writers Group breakfast that "when the RFP comes out I wouldn't be surprised if one side or the other files a protest."
Boeing and Northrop Grumman should note that Lichte said several times, in several different ways, that he really hoped no one would file another protest after the next contract award. I asked him if he had told his bosses there was a cutoff date for a contract award beyond which the risk to the fleet would become overwhelming. "I have not come up with a date," he said, adding that "we need a new tanker now" and he does not care which plane is picked as long as something gets picked."
Congress should note that Lichte hoped the tanker contract would be awarded around the end of the year because he's worried that if it's delayed then a new administration "will want to study the issue," pushing any decision even further out.
On the split buy, which has largely been pushed by Boeing supporters, Lichte said that if he is ordered by Congress to handle two different tanker fleets then he will salute and implement. But he clearly doesn't want it to happen. "I'm not really in favor of it," he said, and ticked off the reasons why: two logistics lines, two training programs, two ... well, you get the idea.
Still, he was careful to leave the door open. "However, if you were to tell me that was the only way to get out of [the current situation] then I'd take it," Lichte said.
Lichte also voiced frustration with the effects of congressional restrictions that stop the service from retiring airplanes, including the KC-135 E models. The engine struts on the KC-135 E models are suffering from "a lot of corrosion" and should be retired by the end of 2008, he said.
Instead, the congressional language forces Air Mobility Command to put the planes in "XJ" status. That means they sit on the ground, having their tires rotated every seven to 10 days and their engines started every 45 days. If any problems are found then the Air Force has to fix them even though they can't fly.
He just wants to retire the planes, park them in the desert and strip them of all spare parts possible.
But Lichte's bottom line on the tanker issue was stated pretty clearly: "We need a new tanker now. I don't care which one it is. And we need to get on with this quickly."