EADS North America CEO Sean O'Keefe today said that while he trusts that the Air Force's word that no game changing information was disclosed when the service mistakenly sent data on rival bids to each of the KC-X competitors, he cannot rule out the possibility that EADS may protest this latest round of competition.
Speaking to reporters in Washington during his first public appearance since the Aug. 9 plane crash in Alaska that killed Sen. Ted Stevens and left O'Keefe badly injured, the executive repeatedly said the Air Force is conducting an extremely fair and "above board" competition all in a way that would ensure the "avoidance of a [sustainable] protest."
He went on to say that EADS has no objections to how the Air Force handled the aftermath of the mix-up. However, it may be too early to tell if initial reports that no compromising information was shared with each bidder are accurate, he added.
The Air Force responded to news of the mix up it "promptly," said O'Keefe. "As soon as it had been reported to them that it was released, and it was clear that this was an inadvertent release, all the information was recalled and they asked for everything that would go with that to validate that inspection." He added that EADS officials did not look at the data they had received about rival Boeing's KC-767-based bid. He could only trust that Boeing officials had done the same with information on EADS' KC-45 bid.
"What the ultimate import of that is, we'll see," said O'Keefe. "But, [Air Force officials] have offered the assessment, early, that this was not a compromising event in their opinion. We'll see whether that sustains itself. Again, everything to date suggests a strict adherence to a process of integrity."
Despite this, O'Keefe could not guarantee that a protest will not arise.
"I cannot begin to speculate" on whether something that would warrant a protest will arise in the coming months.
Last week, Defense News reported that the service had sent EADS and Boeing information about each other's airplane's performance in the Integrated Fleet Aerial Refueling Assessments. These assessments play a key role in the Air Force's evaluation of the bids as they are being used to evaluate the performance of the jets in a variety of different military scenarios.
O'Keefe also indicated that EADS could be interested in a split buy for the deal as has been proposed for KC-X in years past. The former acting Navy Secretary noted that split buys work well in the maritime arena, as evidenced by the recent move by the U.S. Navy to buy both classes of Littoral Combat Ship. Still, he acknowledged that such a scenario seems unlikely given the Pentagon's insistence that it wants to go with a single tanker supplier. Any split buy would have to provide enough work to each company per year to make such an offer fiscally viable.