* Critical design review set for late fiscal 2013
* Singapore expressed interest in KC-46 tanker
* Boeing says dealing with risk on program
WASHINGTON, Sept 18 The U.S. Air Force said on
Tuesday it was optimistic about Boeing Co's work on the
new $51.7 billion KC-46 refueling tanker program but remained
vigilant about possible problems, even as officials examined an
initial possible export request.
"I think we're in a good place right now," Major General
John Thompson, who oversees the Boeing tanker program as well
the older KC-135 and KC-10 tanker programs, told reporters at
the Air Force Association annual conference.
Thompson, who started his job five weeks ago, said the
financial and schedule risks were all normal for this stage of a
development program, and both Boeing and the Air Force had good
people on it.
But he said there was more hard work to do to ensure the
program was able to reach a critical design review by the end of
fiscal year 2013. He said his attitude was "to be optimistic,
Thompson said Singapore had requested information about the
possible export of the KC-46 tanker earlier this summer. That
request was now being addressed.
He said he was concerned that a 9.4 percent across-the-board
budget cut slated to take effect on Jan. 2 could force him to
renegotiate the fixed-price contract, raising the possibility
that he would get less attractive terms from Boeing.
"If I have to break my fixed-price contract I stand the
potential to lose out," Thompson said, describing the current
terms of the contract as "a really good deal."
Major General Wayne Schatz, director of strategic plans,
requirements and programs, said Air Force Mobility Command was
beginning early work on the next phase of replacing the Air
Force's aging fleet of tankers, and would have to make some
initial decisions in about two years.
One possible option, he said, might be to buy more of the
KC-46 tankers that Boeing is now designing. The last of the 179
tankers now planned for purchase from Boeing is due to be
delivered in 2028, he said.
That may be disappointing news for Europe's EADS,
which is hoping to compete for future tanker orders after losing
the tanker contract to Boeing in February 2011. The order capped
a decade of failed Air Force attempts to start replacing its
KC-135 tankers, which are about 49 years old on average.
One Air Force official familiar with the tanker program said
the Pentagon might have to increase its projected cost for the
program at completion because Boeing had been burning through
its management reserve at an accelerated rate over the past six
months. That issue was still being assessed and studied.
Boeing spokesman Jerry Drelling said the company had sped up
its use of management reserve largely to deal with risk on the
program, including the system integration laboratories. But he
said the "the overall management reserve plan for the program