Air Force data misstep could delay tanker contract again

By McClatchy Tribune Newspapers
Posted Nov. 19, 2010 at 5:29 p.m.

The Air Force has again stumbled in the lucrative but long-drawn-out competition for air refueling tankers for which Airbus and Boeing are contending.

The Air Force told members of Congress on Friday that about two weeks ago it accidentally provided Chicago-based Boeing with detailed data on the Airbus bid, and vice versa.

The data include crucial pricing information on each bid. Price is considered likely to be the key difference in the competition and knowing the other side’s bid could allow either to adjust itsĀ  price accordingly.

However, it’s unclear how damaging the glitch is at this stage of the competition and how the data disclosure might affect the outcome.

The bid information was provided to the two manufacturers on computer disks and the Air Force doesn’t know for sure “whether either party has viewed the other party’s detailed data,” said John Diamond, a spokesman for Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) who was briefed Friday.

Diamond said that “both Airbus and Boeing claim that once they realized the error, they did not look at the detailed proprietary info they had been inadvertently given.”

The data switch happened after the Air Force took the detailed specifications of the contending jets and ran them through a software program that models how the aircraft will perform in real-world tanker missions.

The so-called Integrated Fleet Air Refueling Assessment (IFARA) model is used to evaluate how the jets perform and whether the pricing in the bid is realistic. Typically, after the IFARA modeling, the Air Force may tell the bidder that the price they have submitted needs to be adjusted up or down, Diamond said.

The tanker competition was expected to have been decided this month but recently indications were that the award of the $40 billion contract would slip into next year.

This inadvertent swap of proprietary information may further delay the result. It could also provide the loser with grounds for an appeal.

The initial Air Force assessment is that this should not scotch the competition since both bids are in, Diamond said.

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