WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2009 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced today that he has returned selection authority for the Air Force’s next aerial-refueling tanker to Air Force officials.

The Air Force had awarded the contract for what’s known as the KC-X to a Northrop-Grumman/EADS/Airbus consortium, which prompted a protest from rival bidder Boeing. The General Accountability Office found irregularities in the awarding of the contract, and Gates re-opened the bidding process on July 9, 2008, appointing the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics as source-selection authority.

Gates shelved the process two months later, however, telling Congress that rather than handing the next presidential administration “an incomplete and possibly contested process,” he had decided to defer the procurement decision to the administration that would be elected in November.

In a speech at the Air Force Association’s Air and Space Conference here, Gates said he’s confident that Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Norton A. Schwartz will handle the source selection well.

“I don’t need to belabor the importance of getting this done soon and done right,” he said, “and my office will continue to have a robust oversight role. We are committed to the integrity of the selection process, and cannot afford the kind of letdowns, parochial squabbles and corporate food fights that have bedeviled this effort in the past.”

A draft request for proposals for the new tanker will follow, the secretary said.

Up Next

Afghanistan Mission Remains Complex, Mullen Says

WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2009 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced today that he…