Well, I am surprise by this announcement. I thought for sure that enough lobbyists from both sides had enough congressmen and senators paid off that the final decision would be a split purchase between the two companies.
And going by what one article said, that may still be in the works for a future purchase after these first 176 KC-46As are purchased. Price tag is $30 billion plus. EADS version of its Airbus A330 plane to be converted over to a tanker would have been called the KC-45A.
Problems with the F-35 keep on taking place along with the price tag keeps on going up. The USAF is rapidly retiring many of its legacy fighter aircraft such as the F-15 and F-16. Just to try and keep the wonder plane (i.e F-35) on track.
As a smaller aircraft, the KC-46A is expected to burn less fuel in absolute terms than the KC-45 over a 30 year lifespan for the airframe.
Boeing has to deliver the first 18 KC-46As within six years of the contract award date. The production spans over 13 years for building all 179 aircraft. And Boeing has confirmed that first flight for the KC-46A is scheduled for 2015. So, we should see a KC-46A flying by February 2015. I won't hold my breath. Something ALWAYS happens to screw up the production schedule. Then Boeing has to go to Congress to get more funds, etc., etc.
Now its a race against time. The USAF has 400 really old KC-135 Stratotankers that have to be replaced. Many of them are 50+ years old.
1. ELP Defens(c)e Blog. "Boeing KC-46A air-refueling tanker for the USAF. Now what? #military" by Eric Palmer. February 24, 2011. (http://ericpalmer.wordpress.com/2011/02/25/boeing-kc-46a-air-refueling-tanker-for-the-usaf-now-what-military/).
2. Flight Global.com. "USAF selects Boeing for KC-X contract" by Stephen Trimble. (http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2011/02/24/353642/updated-usaf-selects-boeing-for-kc-x-contract.html).