It's a bit mushy, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates said today that he is "very hopeful" that we will have two competitors" responding to the final tanker RFP.
When I asked Gates during today's press conference when the final RFP would be out, he wouldn't go beyond saying, "very soon." Rumors are that it may well come out this week. Gates said he thought the final RFP would offer a "very fair" competition. In his response, Gates noted pointedly that this is an Air Force competition. Perhaps not surprisingly, he didn't reiterate his commitment to practicing vigorous oversight of the program even though he handed acquisition authority back to the Air Force.
During the day, another "grassroots" tanker organization was announced, this one committed to creating "American jobs" by making sure both Boeing and Northrop Grumman get business. The new group, with the catchy name of Build Them Both, was announced as the governor from Boeing -- er, Washington -- was holding forth at the National Press Club with some of his fellow state executives to promote a rather different vision as leaders of the U.S. Tanker 2010 Coalition.
The Build Them Both website offered this punchy argument for awarding the contract to both Northrop and to Boeing:
"We’ve heard it before, we’ll hear it again. Building two tankers makes no sense. It’s too expensive. It’ll require two training programs, two maintenance programs, two everything and it’s just too much.
"That would be a great argument were it not for the fact that the Air Force plan, all along, has not been to order two different tankers but three!
"The current tanker competition is called KC-X. The Pentagon has clearly stated that it also intends to hold a KC-Y and KC-Z competition in the future with the results being Air Force ownership of three completely different tanker aircraft. So, the only change Build Them Both is really proposing is to build the KC-X and KC-Y tankers at the same time."
What was Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire's counterargument at the press club? "Awarding the refueling tanker contract to Boeing will provide work for 40,000 to 50,000 people all across the country at a time when the national economy is still struggling mightily,” he said. “Boeing has a long history of making great tankers and is ready to start with these today. Boeing has the facilities, the technical expertise and the experienced work force to get the job done.”
Gregoire is joined in his efforts by Mark Parkinson of Kansas, Jodi Rell of Connecticut, Chet Culver of Iowa, John Baldacci of Maine, Jay Nixon of Missouri, Ted Kulongoski of Oregon and Gary Herbert of Utah, governors all.