The authority for the long-delayed KC-X aerial tanker acquisition programme has been returned to the US Air Force, US Defense secretary Robert M Gates has announced.

The US Air Force originally awarded a contract to acquire 179 tanker aircraft to Northrop Grumman, sparking a protest from rival bidder Boeing. The General Accountability Office subsequently found irregularities in the awarding of the contract causing the deal to be delayed.

After the delay Defence Secretary Gates appointed the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics as the source-selection authority.

“I don’t need to belabour the importance of getting this done soon and done right, and my office will continue to have a robust oversight role,” Gates said.

“I have confidence that the KC-X selection authority is in good hands,” he added.

A draft request for proposal is due for issue in the near future.