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Extended Interview: Air Force Gen. Gregory Martin

Gen. Gregory Martin, former commander of the Air Force Material Command and a Northrop Grumman consultant, talks about the competition process and eventual awarding of the Air Force's contract to Northrop Grumman for new refueling aircraft.

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    General, talk a little bit about how this contract for these new tankers was approached.

  • GEN. GREGORY MARTIN (Ret.), former commander, Air Force Material Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio:

    I think first of all, to start the process off what’s most important to realize is that we did what was called an analysis of alternatives. Now that analysis was conducted by Rand Corporation and my recollection is it took a little over two years for the study to be done and then the vetting process that occurred. I have to tell you that that analysis of alternatives was probably the most heavily vetted analysis that we’ve ever done in any of the services for an acquisition program.


    Why was it so meticulous?


    Well, it was because of the background. It was the background that had occurred. Initially the Air Force in the late ’90s was approached about replacing their KC-135s. But the Air Force chose what I would call a phased modernization program. They had modernized the fighters in the ’80s, the bombers in the late ’80s, early ’90s. We were at that time, the late ’90s, modernizing our air lift force with C-17s and C-130Js and it was intended to do the analysis of alternatives for the tanker replacement in the 2005 timeframe. But about ’98 we started seeing very serious corrosion and fatigue problems on our KC-135 force including the E models which had never gone through the significant modification. At one time I think we had 176 aircraft in depot maintenance for over and above work, meaning more work than was normal to be done. That’s about 35 percent of your tanker force that was in maintenance.

    So the lease thing sounded like a pretty good idea for the oldest aircraft we had, the aircraft were available and that all started rolling. But analysis and alternatives had not formally been done. And so the issue unfolded with Sen. (John) McCain (R-Ariz.) and therefore when we did this analysis of alternatives, it was very clear that we wanted what we considered to be a totally unbiased effort by a well-recognized analysis shop to do that work and then it was vetted. That vetting process took about 8 months and that was to make sure that there were never going to be anyone who would claim that whatever we were trying to in the leasing was just rolled over into the procurement. It was a very, very conscious effort to make this perfectly pristine.


    What is the Air Force looking … to have a brand new plane do?


    Great question. The tanker that we’re replacing, the KC-135 fleet, in this case it was the R-model because in the late ’80s we had gone through re-engining and doing a bunch of other modifications for it was a very, very efficient and very capable aircraft, but it was 40 years old. And we were finding fatigue problems and corrosion and other things and of course with aircraft that old they’re going to age out.

    The Air Force I believe as a result of the analysis of alternatives believe that the replacement aircraft, newer technology, newer air frame, much longer life and hopefully lower life cycle cost because it would be more efficient, less maintenance, hours to maintain and all of those sorts of things, would be something equivalent to, or slightly better than the KC-135R. We weren’t looking for, you know, the 2 million pound behemoth. We weren’t looking for something that was necessarily smaller and less capable, we were looking for something that was as or slightly more capable than the current airplane that we’re using because as I said, it was a very capable aircraft.


    In the early stages … was Boeing considered the odds-on favorite?


    I would think most people felt that Boeing had the expertise, Boeing had the lineage if you would and the experience at not only designing, but then operating, maintaining and sustaining in terms of engineering the tanker force. So I would say yes, most people felt that this would be something that Boeing would probably fare very well in.

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