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(Washington, D.C.) – In a speech on the Senate floor today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) decried the military’s apparent failure to consider all of the additional costs of selecting the larger Airbus refueling tanker over Boeing’s mid-size tanker.

The Air Force in February awarded the contract to build the next generation of aerial refueling tankers to the European company Airbus.  But Airbus’ tanker is so much larger than the military’s current tanker fleet, it can’t use many of our hangars, ramps, and runways around the world.  The Airbus tanker also burns 24 percent more fuel – which will cost an additional $30 billion over the lifetime of the fleet.  And it will require much more maintenance and personnel than the Boeing tanker.

Murray pointed out in her speech that she has asked four times in the last three months – including today – whether the military did a comprehensive study of how much more it will cost to rebuild or replace this infrastructure.  Yet Pentagon officials have been unable to give her an answer.

“The military says it wants to spend more than $100 billion to buy bigger airplanes – but it has no idea where we’re going to put them; it doesn’t know who’s going to maintain them; and it doesn’t know how we’re going to pay to operate them” Senator Murray said in her speech.  “I am baffled as to why the Pentagon didn’t do a top-to-bottom analysis of every aspect of this decision.  ‘I don’t know’ is not an acceptable answer when we’re asking American taxpayers to foot the bill.”

Murray added: “I think that we – as members of Congress – should be very concerned about the way the military reached its decision.  No family would buy an 18-wheeler if all they needed was a station wagon.  And the military shouldn’t buy a jumbo-jet when what it needs is an agile refueling tanker.  It’s just common sense.”

Senator Murray said she will keep pushing for a comprehensive assessment of the total life-cycle costs of the Airbus tanker.

Senator Murray’s full remarks (as prepared for delivery) follow:

Madam President, when our constituents make decisions about big purchases – like a house, or a car – they consider the money they have, and then they shop for the best quality they can get, for the most reasonable price, and for the item that best meets their needs.  And they expect that when the government makes a purchase, it follows the same sort of analysis – whether we’re buying pencils or jet engines.  

But that’s not what the military did when it made its decision to buy the next generation of refueling tankers from Airbus – instead of Boeing.  Madam President, compared to Boeing’s 767, Airbus’s A-330 is massive.  And it’s a simple truth that a bigger plane is going to be more expensive.  A bigger plane burns more fuel, takes up more space, and requires more people to maintain it.  But our hangars, runways, and ramps are all designed for a much smaller tanker.  And I also have serious questions about how much Airbus’s tanker will cost in fuel, personnel, and maintenance.

In the months that have passed since the military announced that it selected Airbus for this contract, I have repeatedly asked the Pentagon whether it considered how it will pay for the extra costs of a bigger plane.  And I have been astounded that no one has been able to answer my questions.

In other words, Madam President – the military says it wants to spend more than $100 billion to buy bigger airplanes – but it has no idea where we’re going to put them; it doesn’t know who’s going to maintain them; and it doesn’t know how we’re going to pay to operate them.  That makes no sense to me.  

I am very concerned about how much this decision will cost us – and it is why I have come to the floor today.  Madam President, let me explain why I am so troubled by this decision.

Military Construction Will Cost More

First, we don’t know what the possible military construction costs might be.  But it is estimated that these planes are too big for many of our hangars, and that they are too heavy for many of our runways and ramps.

Madam President, our tankers are the backbone of our military.  Refueling tankers make our global Air Force possible.  And they are stationed around the world.  So we’re not just buying an airplane that we can keep anywhere.  The tanker has to be able to take off and land from almost anyplace in the world.

The new tankers are supposed to be a replacement for our current fleet of medium-sized Boeing KC-135s.  But compared to our current tankers – and compared to the 767 – Airbus’s plane is massive.  Airbus’s A-330, is 32 feet longer than Boeing’s 767.  The A-330’s wingspan is 41 feet wider.  And the A-330 weighs about 20 percent more.

Military experts have said that they think the A-330 will be able to operate on only about half of the airfields that the 767 can use.  That means that some of our infrastructure in this country – and across the globe – is going to need to be ripped down and refitted to accommodate these planes.

Fuel Will Cost More

Second, Madam President, oil and gas prices are a major factor in the cost of operating a refueling tanker.  And I am concerned because a larger plane will burn more fuel and cost dramatically more over the lifetime of the plane.

In fact, because the A-330 is larger and heavier than Boeing’s 767 it burns 24 percent more fuel.  That means that fueling planes the size of the A-330 would cost $30 billion more over the lifetime of the fleet.  And, Madam President, that is astonishing when you think that the initial cost of the contract for the tanker is $35 billion.  Fuel alone would almost double the cost of these planes.

Americans are up in arms about the cost of gas for their cars today.  How do you think they should react if the Air Force chooses to use their tax dollars to fuel massive airplanes – when there’s a cheaper option?

Personnel and Maintenance Will Cost More

Third, the larger A-330 is going to require bigger refueling and ground crews.  Because buying a larger plane means it won’t be able to use standard military-size pallets, the military will need more personnel and airmen to load and unload every A-330 tanker.

And finally, the larger planes will cost the military more to maintain.  Not only will the A-330 simply need more maintenance over its lifetime – larger crews will be needed to work on them.  And because the planes are bigger, they are going to have to be packed in closer at bases.  And packing them in closer is going to make maintaining and getting them off the ground more dangerous for our Airmen and women.

I’ve Been Asking Tough Questions

Now, Madam President, I have been asking some tough questions about how we got to this point.  Because this decision just doesn’t make sense to me.  And I’ve specifically asked about the military construction costs.  At four hearings in the last three months, I’ve asked military officials whether could tell me if they did an analysis of the potential construction costs of buying a larger plane before they reached their decision.  And, Madam President, I was shocked by their answer – it was ‘No.’  

That means that the Pentagon launched a major contract to replace a plane we will have for decades and that will cost us billions of dollars – but it apparently never did a complete independent analysis of the potential military construction costs of buying a larger plane.

But Madam President, I am just as concerned that even though I have asked for an estimate of these costs – and even though several of my colleagues here in the Senate and in the House have asked for the same information – we still don’t have an answer.

I first asked Air Force Secretary Wynne about these costs on March 12.  I asked, “What will be the associated cost for our military construction budget?  Can these Airbus planes fit in the hangars that we have today?”

At the time, Secretary Wynne couldn’t answer.  He said only that the RFP didn’t indicate size.

Well, I asked again on April 24 – this time of two Pentagon officials, Comptroller Tina Jones, and Under-Secretary of Defense Wayne Arny.  And they said they weren’t part of the decision-making process and couldn’t comment.  And on May 8 and again today, I asked what the costs of the larger tanker would be for the National Guard and Reserve.  Today the Guard promised to get back to me – and I’m hoping that I’ll get an answer.

But Madam President, I am extremely frustrated that we can’t seem to get this information.  We are talking about spending billions and billions of dollars.  And we’re talking about a decision that affects our global military power.  I am baffled as to why the Pentagon didn’t do a top-to-bottom analysis of every aspect of this decision.  “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer when we’re asking American taxpayers to foot the bill.

We Need Answers Before We Move Forward

Madam President, this process has been flawed from the start.  And as a result, it is now being appealed before the GAO.  But regardless of the GAO’s findings, I think that we – as members of Congress – should be very concerned about the way the military reached its decision.  No family would buy an 18-wheeler if all they needed was a station wagon.  And the military shouldn’t buy a jumbo-jet when what it needs is an agile refueling tanker.  It’s just common sense.

I think we need to see some real answers about why the Pentagon believes this decision is worth the taxpayers’ money.  And I hope that our colleagues will join with me in demanding we get that information before we make a mistake that will cost us billions of dollars that we can’t afford to waste.

Thank you.