WASHINGTON - The U.S. Air Force said on Wednesday it is surveying the aircraft industry to learn if another manufacturer has the capacity or interest to make the next tranche of midair refueling tankers similar to the recently purchased KC-46.
The Air Force's newest refueling tankers, the KC-46 Pegasus made by Boeing Co, have been plagued by performance challenges including defects with an on-board video system and the boom that connects the tanker to aircraft seeking refueling.
Despite the challenges the KC-46 aircraft faces, during Congressional testimony on Wednesday the Acting Secretary of the Air Force John Roth said "at this point we don't see the economic or business sense of recompeting the contract."
Mike Hafer, Boeing's lead for sales for the KC-46, said the company is ready for the competition for the next tranche.
"We are proud of the KC-46 and it's accomplishments," he said. "Boeing is poised to provide advanced capabilities going forward. There in no other refueling tanker in the world that meets the Air Force's requirements."
The Air Force's survey is the first step in the process of buying the next batch of refueling tankers. The Air Force said the tranche of 140 to 160 jets would follow Boeing's current contract to produce 179 KC-46's as the Pentagon replaces hundreds of Eisenhower-era KC-135's still in service.
Wednesday's "sources sought" document was released as part of its market research, the Air Force said.
The Air Force has sought to replace its tankers in three lots. Wednesday's announcement is the beginning of the formal process to buy the second batch.
The Air Force hopes to "determine if there exists an adequate number of qualified interested contractors capable of providing solutions to meet the requirement."
The survey comes days after the United States and the European Union agreed to a truce in their near 17-year conflict over aircraft subsidies.
The two sides have been battling since 2004 in parallel cases at the World Trade Organization over subsidies for U.S. planemaker Boeing and European rival Airbus, which each argued exposed the other to unfair competition.
Airbus, won a $35 billion contract in 2008 to build tankers for the U.S. Air Force. But the deal was overturned amid political pressure and the Air Force re-ran the competition which Boeing ultimately won for 179 of its 767-based tankers.
(Reporting by Mike Stone in Washington Editing by Bill Berkrot and Michael Perry) ((firstname.lastname@example.org; https://twitter.com/MichaelStone;))