Senator assails Air Force vice chief over tanker lease remarks

Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley drew fire Tuesday from Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain for public remarks the general made last week favoring the Air Force's current plan to lease and buy Boeing 767 aerial refueling tankers. McCain asserted Moseley's comments had precluded any option other than the 767.

During a lively exchange at a Senate Armed Services Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee hearing, Moseley told McCain he had been asked his own opinion about tanker options during an appearance last week before a House Armed Services subcommittee. McCain said Moseley had not been asked his opinion but had offered it.

"You're supposed to be representing the Department of Defense and the United States Air Force, and you are not doing that in your statement [to the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee]," McCain said.

McCain asked whether Moseley was aware of a Feb. 24 directive to the Air Force from Michael Wynne, the Pentagon's acting undersecretary for acquisition, to conduct an analysis of alternatives (AOA) for refurbishing or replacing the service's aging KC-135 aerial refueling fleet.

"Certainly your statement before the House Armed Services Committee is in direct contradiction to the direction given by the undersecretary of defense," McCain said.

During his March 3 testimony before the House panel, Moseley touted the 767 tanker over other options.

"The plan that we've got for the KC-X and the 767 is valid," Moseley said in his March 3 testimony. "The options of contracting is not operationally viable. The options of re-engining old 707s gives us a re-engined, 50-year-old, Eisenhower air tanker, not viable from my perspective, or the ability to go look at something out there that is outside the boundaries of a 767-class airplane." McCain said the statement conflicted with guidance prescribed by the department.

Moseley told McCain the Air Force is committed to conducting an AOA, adding he had been asked his personal opinion on the tanker requirement during his House testimony, and he had responded as an operational commander.

"As we look through this, the operational future, the nature of the 767-class airplane will play out in my opinion," Moseley told McCain, adding the AOA would have a role in this process.

As the air operations commander of both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, Moseley is arguably suited to assess the service's future tanker needs.

But McCain asserted Moseley had not been called to testify as an operational commander, but as the Air Force vice chief, and it was not the general's place to volunteer an opinion during testimony before Congress.

McCain also took issue with Moseley's prepared statement, in which he said at the beginning of January, 36 percent of the KC-135 fleet was unavailable, including aircraft in depot and those unit-possessed but not mission-capable.

"Of those that are available, mission-capable rates continue trending downward," according to Moseley's prepared statement submitted for the record.

McCain noted mission-capable rates for critical strategic assets, including the B-1 and the newer B-2 bomber, are only half those of the antiquated KC-135. Moseley emphasized that the tanker fleet is a key enabler of other Air Force missions, but McCain asserted information recently received from the Air Force contradicts Moseley's testimony.

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