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Panel One of a Hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee - The Proposed Lease of 100 KC-767 Aerial Refueling Tanker Aircraft by the Air Force

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Location: Washington, DC

Federal News Service

HEADLINE: PANEL ONE OF A HEARING OF THE SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE
 
SUBJECT: THE PROPOSED LEASE OF 100 KC-767 AERIAL REFUELING TANKER AIRCRAFT BY THE AIR FORCE
 
CHAIRED BY: SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-VA)
 
PANEL 1: JAMES ROCHE, SECRETARY OF THE AIR FORCE; MICHAEL WYNNE, ACTING UNDERSECRETARY OF DEFENSES; AND JOEL KAPLAN, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT & BUDGET
 
LOCATION: 216 HART SENATE OFFICE BUILDING, WASHINGTON, D.C.

SEN. INHOFE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. First of all, just for clarification, when—statements, you alluded to something like a flow time for the maintenance of each KC-135, and without distinguishing between E and R, as being around 400 days. And it's my understanding now that it's, at least at Tinker it's 222 days in the last year. Do you disagree with that?

SEC. ROCHE: No sir. I think the tanker depots have done a magnificent job.

SEN. INHOFE: Yes. Thank you very much. You know, it seems like we talk a lot about the hundred vehicles that are there and don't really go beyond that. I don't think that there is—well, after the leases expire, one of two things can happen, you can either return the planes, or you can go ahead and reorder more. And I think the likelihood is very great that they'd reorder more.

I'd like to get one option off the table, and that is of returning them. Mr. Curtin will be coming up in the next panel and I want to pursue this with him, but he says, "If the aircraft were returned, the Air Force would have to find some way to replace the lost capability, even though lease payments would have to paid almost the full cost of the aircraft. He goes on to say, you know, why that would not be a good scenario. Do you agree with his statements?

SEC. ROCHE: I don't know the details of the numbers. I know that we have plenty of time to look to see whether these are working as well as we think they will work. If not, we can return them. If so, we would come back to the Congress and make that case, that we would like to then have authorization and appropriation to purchase.

SEN. INHOFE: I --

SEC. ROCHE: There is a third option, by the way, Senator. In the way this lease is negotiated, if any time during the construction period we choose to turn it into a buy, we can, so that if in fact there is concern with a long term lease, we could buy.

SEN. INHOFE: The point I'm trying to get at here is even the likelihood of stopping at a hundred, and I would probably be supportive, if this thing goes through, we're going to have to be looking to the future, and stopping at a hundred would not make sense. In a memo from Secretary Aldridge to you just a short while ago, it says "It is the intent of the department to go beyond the initial 100 aircraft as we begin to recapitalize, the recapitalization of the airborne tanker fleet." Then again in Aviation Week, he reemphasized that saying, "We indicated an intent of the government to begin recapitalization of the tanker fleet so it would go beyond the 100 aircraft." And I think that this is realistic, that it most likely—that it would. Now—and I think you'd agree with that. But --

SEC. ROCHE: Yes sir.

SEN. INHOFE: -- with that in mind, why is it we don't have a good long term maintenance and training program that would go with this?

SEC. ROCHE: When we come back in November to the undersecretary for acquisition with a long-term strategy, which I doubt will include additional leases because we believe this is a one-time thing, we would also reflect how we would intend to maintain and how we would intend to train.

SEN. INHOFE: Okay. Senator Akaka brought up this thing on the 50-50, and I do—I understand the response that you gave him. However, wouldn't this require a change in the law because if you go back and you have it in an ALC but it's actually being done in—with a partnership, which have been successful, I might add, wouldn't this require that—have some type of a change in the law?

SEC. ROCHE: Senator, I'm not sure. May I turn to a colleague and ask—ask a question? May I come back you for—or ask for the record --

SEN. INHOFE: For the record is fine.

SEC. ROCHE: Thank you.

SEN. INHOFE: Now, I'd like to get into the thing on—I have been concerned, after having chaired the Readiness Subcommittee for a number of years, in our lift problem that we have in general. I'm talking about tankers. I'm talking about all types of lift vehicles. It's—when you stop and think of what we did in Kosovo and Bosnia, then in Afghanistan, and of course in Iraq, it's put a tremendous strain, and we're right at capacity. And I think everyone agrees that that is a real serious problem right now.

And the reason I bring this up is that when you talk about the existing KC-135s, and I know people like to talk about how old they are, and it's going to be, you know, 80 years old at the end of this, some of these aircraft, and they'll still be in use. That doesn't really make that much difference. I've flown in airplanes in the last two weeks that were 60 years old. I depends on how often they're used, how they're rotated. And we have studies to show that they could be used for a long period of time.

I bring this up not just to say that there are alternatives to a lease, but in addition, I think we'd all—everyone in this room who understands the issues knows that we have a tremendous shortage of tankers and lift capacity. Would you agree with that?

SEC. ROCHE: Our lift capacity is demonstrating great progress. And also, the 767s would also be lift aircraft because they're good cargo aircraft.

SEN. INHOFE: I understand that. But today I'm talking about, we have a deficiency.

SEC. ROCHE: Our plans show, with the—taking a look at the C- 5s and increasing the life of them, we meet the requirement that the joint staff has given us. This would add to our capacity.

SEN. INHOFE: Well, what I'm getting around to is the 68 that you're talking about retiring, it would seem to me that if we need the capacity out there—let's say the lease goes through—I would like then to look at this thing and reevaluate what we'd want to do with the 68 that they're talking about going into retirement. We can remember just a short time ago, and I'll see if I can find it in here, that the Air Force testified to us, here it is right here, with proper maintenance and upgrades, we believe the aircraft may be sustainable—we're talking about Es and Rs here—for another 35 years. I think Senator Warner mentioned a report that would go all the way to 2040. I think if the need is that great, and if this thing does go through, how receptive would you be to reevaluating what you'd want to do with some of the existing KC-135s. I know we're going to have them anyway—I'm talking about the 68 that you're talking about going into retirement.

SEC. ROCHE: Our sense, sir, is that retiring those 68 will give us quite a savings. We could always look at your idea, which is different, which is could they be converted to freighters and used as freighters, and we could take a look at that.

SEN. INHOFE: Now, the last—I want to be sure to get—I know my time is expired, but it was brought up by Senator Levin, the mission capable rates. I happen to have a breakdown of the KC-135Rs and Es, and they've actually gone up since '00, or the end of '99, from KC-135Rs from 78 percent to 82 percent, the KC-135Es from 62 percent to 75 percent, not having done—that's in the active service, not counting the Guard and Reserve. So, would you disagree with those figures?

SEC. ROCHE: Sir, the Guard and Reserves ones have gone from 64 percent to 73 percent. It's a matter of what we average. But they are not the 85 percent. Total level, I think the average is near 85 percent, or was in '03. In terms of the mission capable rates of those aircraft in the last year, with the use, those that we've used in the operating area have had a higher mission capable rate. Those who have stayed behind have had a lower mission capable rate.

SEN. INHOFE: And I understand that. And I understand the rotation and how that works. But nonetheless, the mission capable rate is actually improving and has over the last three years.

SEC. ROCHE: It has because of spare parts and depot work, but it has not made the 85 percent goal.

SEN. INHOFE: And I think a lot of that's because the depots are doing a very good job, don't you?

SEC. ROCHE: Absolutely.

SEN. INHOFE: Thank you very much.

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