Deputy Defense Secretary Bill Lynn may well play the lead role in managing the KC-X tanker competition, his boss indicated.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Senate Appropriatiions defense subcommittee that he would decide within the next week whether the Air Force would lead the competition or the Office of Secretary of Defense would. Gates may have tipped his hand – though it’s hard to tell with the cagey old intel player – when he told the Senate panel Tuesday that he was looking for the “best people” to run this program and then added that Lynn would take a “very close interest” in the program.
If the decision is made by then, the ripples will flow through the Paris Air Show, with Boeing and Northrop analyzing every possible repercussion.
The Air Force is eager to demonstrate it can do the job and wants the authority to manage what it regards as a core program. But the service’s disastrous management of the program through last year means the service will have to present some very convincing arguments to Gates, who continues to indicate unease with service acquisition competence.
“There were too few people who came to work in the Pentagon asking, what can I do today to make sure that our warriors come home safely. Without top down direction from sec def it would not have happened,” Gates told the Senate panel, speaking about the building when he arrived. But the defense secretary did indicate things are beginning to improve: “I believe the services are changing the way they do business.” Of course, the begs the question, if they are beginning to improve, would the Air Force be ready to handle a major procurement of such sensitivity.
The question for the tanker competition will be whether Gates thinks the Air Force has changed enough to warrant his trust in managing one of the most watched defense procurements in history.