The HH-47 is a heavy-lift airframe, and is considered for a number of reasons to be utterly unsuited for the SAR mission, mostly due to rotor downwash (which, under less-than-ideal circumstances, could kill a survivor being picked up--and less-than-ideal conditions are the norm in SAR, combat or otherwise). The USMC briefly considered the H-47 and H-53 airframes for the SAR mission in the 1980s, but decided to wait for the Osprey because of these problems--a decision that ultimately led to the demise of the USMC SAR mission, because the HH-46 airframes simply wore out before the Osprey arrived. The Air Force claimed to have a "matrix document" that stated the HH-47 was a medium-lift airframe. Problem is, Defense Daily reported that neither the Office of the Secretary of Defense or the US Air Force has produced any such document. Here are the money quotes from Defense Daily:
“It seems like there may not be a formal written document,” service spokesman Don Manuszewski said. “It may be an understood concept or construct.”
There “may or may not have been a matrix” that defined the classes for the CSAR-X selection panel, one Air Force official said. “There may have been charts depicting concepts for current [and/or] future presentation of each.”
Now, when you have confident assertions that a document exists, followed by those sorts of verbal gymnastics to explain why no one can produce a copy of it, there's something really wrong here.
The procurement process on this one is badly tainted. In procurement, the RFP is everything--it defines the intended product. The USAF ignored the RFP for evaluating operations & support costs--and that is usually the heart of the entire RFP. When this sort of thing happens, it's generally because someone in the procurement office issued the RFP with a winner already in mind, and the RFP itself was window-dressing to (a) cover the fact that there wasn't going to be real competition and (b) get around sole-source acquisition requirements. These things stink when it's a few million dollars for some Congresscritter's campaign donor (thank you, Mr. Cunningham), and they really stink when it's billions of dollars for a major combat system.
Whenever you have a really questionable procurement decision, it needs to be questioned in detail.
As for the question of "butting in" on the KC-767, that proposal was clearly a ripoff for the taxpayer, as the US government would essentially would have bought the aircraft twice over and not received clear title. The deal simply begged to be investigated. It turned out that there was a lot TO be investigated, and there are a bunch of contracts still be audited because Ms. Darlene Druyun handled them. She got nine months in Club Fed and seven months in a halfway house--she should've gotten ten years in a PMITA prison.
The legislative branch is the one that appropriates money and authorizes its expenditure. McCain--or anyone else in Congress--is not "butting in" when he demands an explanation for some really questionable procurement decisions.
No, the tankers and CSAR birds aren't getting any younger. Maybe the USAF should've thought about that before they decided to engage in really shady procurement efforts that just scream for investigation.
It's worth noting that both of these questionable procurements involve the Boeing Corporation. Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three or more times is a pattern. Perhaps it's time for the Department of Defense Inspector General, the Defense Contract Audit Service, the Defense Industrial Security Command, and every other regulatory agency within the DoD to take a very close look at Boeing.