John Noonan – who has really grown up in the world – writes in the Weekly Standard that the way to untie the USAF tanker replacement’s Gordian acquisition knot is to buy from both Boeing and EADS:
With Airbus and Boeing producing capable aircraft with unique advantages, Congress could split the baby with a 50/50 buy from Airbus and Boeing, replacing both the KC-10 and the KC-135. It should also be noted that the Air Force rejected a mixed-fleet replacement for the KC-135 in 2007, claiming that it would unnecessarily inflate costs. But that math is fuzzy and didn’t factor in replacing the KC‑10 as well. With a budget to buy 15 airframes a year, splitting the fleet would force strong competition between Boeing and Airbus to control construction and sustainment costs.
One fact that has emerged from the gnarly world of defense acquisition is that competition is a proven cost-control mechanism. The so-called F-16 “engine wars” during the 1980s ended up saving the Pentagon billions, as did comparable fights over cruise missile and Navy systems contracts. As the KC-X program is projected to last 40 years, allowing for either EADS or Boeing to have a monopoly on logistics, maintenance, and refurbishment, contracts could significantly inflate both the ownership and operation price tag.
Well, CNO is faced with the same dilemma when it comes to the Littoral Combat Ship. Still, it seems to set a bad competitive precedent for a major aircraft acquisition to let both offerors win. And as objective quantity for both Boeing and EADS goes down, unit cost will inevitably rise.
At this point, I’d settle for a coin toss.