Master Sgt. Arenda Jackson, 931st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, marshals the KC-46A Pegasus on the flightline Feb. 21, 2019, at McConnell Air Force Base Kan.

Master Sgt. Arenda Jackson, 931st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, marshals the KC-46A Pegasus on the flightline Feb. 21, 2019, at McConnell Air Force Base Kan. U.S. Air Force / Airman 1 st Class Alexi Myrick

Defense Business Brief: Boeing to pitch KC-46 in next Air Force tanker contest; Indonesia to buy Rafales; Finland signs F-35 paperwork; and more.

Even though the Air Force isn’t soliciting bids for a new tanker (it’s doing market research to see what options are out there), we’ve heard a lot in recent weeks from Lockheed Martin, which has teamed with Airbus to pitch A330 tankers. Boeing has previously said it planned to compete in the contest for up to 160 tankers.

Meanwhile, Lockheed and Airbus have launched a P.R. campaign, holding rallies at company factories in Alabama and Georgia where they say they would add 1,300 new jobs if they win.

This week, we finally heard from Boeing. Boeing’s KC-46, which the Air Force chose over the same Airbus tanker in 2011, has experienced years of delays and has cost the company more than $5 billion.

Boeing Defense, Space & Security CEO Leanne Caret said this week that the company will have all the KC-46 problems fixed by 2029, which is when the Air Force says the new tankers must be ready.

“I believe [the KC-46 is] the right answer, and if you think out to 2029 when the Air Force wants to see a KC-Y on the ramp, the KC-46 program can and will meet the operational and acquisition timelines,” Caret said during a Thursday conference call with reporters. 

Boeing still needs to install an updated refueling system on the KC-46. Those updates “will bring forward technical advancements that could not have been imagined a decade ago,” Caret said.

Still, the Air Force is using the KC-46 tankers it has for all sorts of refueling missions, mostly for training in the United States.

Big news out of Indonesia, where it announced Thursday it signed a deal with the French for up to 42 Rafale aircraft. Jakarta might also buy two diesel-electric submarines from France. French president Emmanuel Macron celebrated the deal on Twitter. Later that same day, the U.S. State Department approved a nearly $14 billion deal for Indonesia to buy up to 36 Boeing-made F-15EX fighters.

Indonesia plans to buy both the Rafale and the F-15 to bolster its Air Force, which currently flies Russian jets and refurbished American F-16s. “This deal is not in direct opposition to the Rafale contract, with Indonesia having previously expressed its desire to procure both aircraft as part of its capability enhancement plans,” Global Data analyst Madeline Wild wrote in a Friday note to investors.

Indonesia had planned to buy Russian-made Su-35 fighters, but canceled that deal last year. Buying Rafales and F-15s would mark a major update to Indonesia’s air force. 

“It's hard to tell what's real here, but it looks like they're serious about actually buying top-of-the-line Western fighter jets,” said Richard Aboulafia, a managing director at AeroDynamic Advisory, a Michigan consulting firm. 

In other fighter jet news, Finland has signed the paperwork for the 64 F-35s Helsinki said it would buy in December. 

Making Moves:

Recently confirmed Air Force acquisition executive Andrew Hunter will fill in as the defense undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment until the Senate confirms Bill Laplante.

Lockheed Martin named Jesus “Jay” Malave its chief financial officer on Feb. 1. Malave was previously CFO at L3Harris Technologies.

Huntington Ingalls Industries board has elected Chris Kastner, the company’s chief operating officer, as its president and CEO, effective March 1. Current CEO Mike Petters will become executive vice chairman of the board for a transition period.

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