News Releases

Tankers: Washington, Kansas Senators Question Joint Chiefs on Why the Safest Tanker for the American Warfighter Was Not Chosen

May 07 2008

In letter to Joint Chiefs, Murray, Roberts, Brownback, and Cantwell cite superior safety capabilities of Boeing KC-767

(Washington D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) wrote to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to express their concern that the recent KC-X contract was not awarded to the refueling tanker that is "safest, most survivable, and most effective for the American warfighter."

In February, the Air Force chose the European-based company Airbus's A330 over the Boeing KC-767.The decision was made despite the Boeing KC-767 significantly outperforming the Airbus tanker in the area of survivability – the measure of the aircraft's ability to keep its crew safe. 

"Tankers face threats from shoulder-fired missiles, gunfire, and many other dangers, and these dangers are not going away" the Senators wrote in their letter. "Why then would we not buy the tanker most capable of operating in these hostile environments while keeping U.S. tanker crews and U.S. pilots who depend on them as safe as possible?"

In the letter, the Senators pose a series of questions to the Joint Chiefs on whether they were consulted on the priority of survivability in the tanker decision, their assessments of the survivability of the proposed tankers, and the risks and impacts the choice to procure a less survivable tanker would have on their services. 

The text of the Senator's letter is below:

May 6, 2008

Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman
General James E. Cartwright, Vice Chairman
General George W. Casey, Jr., Army Chief of Staff
Admiral Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations
General T. Michael Moseley, Air Force Chief of Staff
General James T. Conway, Commandant of the Marine Corps
Joint Chiefs of Staff
9999 Joint Staff Pentagon
Washington, DC  20318-9999

Gentlemen:

We write to express our deep concern that the recent KC-X contract was not awarded to the refueling tanker that is safest, most survivable, and most effective for the American warfighter.  The KC-X tanker will have to serve as a refueling lifeline for all branches of our military in hostile regions around the world.  Tankers face threats from shoulder-fired missiles, gunfire, and many other dangers, and these dangers are not going away.  Why then would we not buy the tanker most capable of operating in these hostile environments while keeping U.S. tanker crews and U.S. pilots who depend on them as safe as possible?  We raise this issue to you as the Joint Chiefs of Staff because the KC-X is intended to be the key refueling platform that all services will rely upon for decades to come.

The KC-767 was rated as having five times the combat strength of the Airbus A330.  It offers superior countermeasures to defeat shoulder-fired missiles, robust cockpit armor protection, safety features for fuel tanks, and a high-performance radar warning receiver system to detect surface to air missiles.  The KC-767 is also smaller and more agile than the KC-X.  These advantages translate into greater protection for tanker crews as well as aircraft that rely on tankers to stay in the fight. 

Survivability should have been a top priority in awarding a contract to replace the KC-135, which provides only limited defensive capabilities.  Instead, the contract was awarded by downplaying the greater capabilities of the KC-767 and discounting the KC-30’s weaknesses.  We believe that you would agree, particularly in a time of war, that nothing should be of higher concern than our servicemembers’ safety.

Were all the services consulted about the priority of tanker survivability?  What assessments have you made regarding the survivability of the proposed tanker platforms and resulting impacts on each of your services?  Are each of you willing to accept the risks that come with not choosing the most survivable refueling platform for the entire U.S. military?  

Sincerely,                         

Patty Murray 
United States Senator

Maria Cantwell
United States Senator
                                               
Sam Brownback
United States Senator

Pat Roberts
United States Senator       

cc:  Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne