Leaning forward and speaking with some intensity, Gen. Norton Schwartz told reporters today that the tanker deal "is not dead" and that the Air Force is studying what kinds of options the next administration might be able to pursue to get the $35 billion, 179-plane contract going again.
Schwartz said nothing could happen with a new tanker competition for at least eight months after the next administration takes up the effort. And it could take a lot longer --as long as 48 months to put together a new competition.
That will depend on whether the next administration decides to tweak the existing approach or come up with something entirely different. Schwartz seemed to indicate he might prefer the more radical approach when he noted that the current effort required 800 criteria to tell industry what the service wanted. "Perhaps going forward we could find something less complex," he said, adding that the complexity was driven in part because the Pentagon was looking at two pretty different commercial planes.
If the next administration decides to craft new requirements, perform a new analysis of alternatives and issue a completely new request for proposal that would take 36-48 months, Schwartz said.
Talks are ongoing with Northrop Grumman about possible termination of the current award, Acting Air Force Secretary Michael Donley told us, but he would not discuss -- no surprise -- how much the company might get should the contract be terminated.
During his state of the service speech before the Air Force Association conference here, Donley said that the Air Force would be meeting with Government Accountability Office experts next week to discuss ways to improve how it documents competitions. The hope is that this will allow the Air Force to avoid a repeat of the CSAR-X and tanker contract awards, both of which were effectively overturned by the GAO. A bit of good news -- Donley said the helicopter contract might be awarded "in a couple of months," before the end of the Bush administration.