Home Invoice Pumps Brakes On USAF’s Tanker Plans

Skeptical of the Air Pressure’s future tanker plans, members of the Home Armed Providers seapower and projection forces subcommittee are one step nearer to gaining added oversight, however there’s an extended street forward.

The complete HASC meets June 23 to vote on amendments and their model of the Nationwide Protection Authorization invoice, after which the measure should additionally clear the complete Home, the Senate, and a convention course of to resolve variations between the Home and Senate variations. However the subcommittee markup is a key first step, and such provisions usually survive in closing laws. 

4 provisions handle the Air Pressure’s tanker fleet and the KC-46, KC-135, the so-called “bridge tanker” to interchange the KC-135s, and the brand new Subsequent-Era Air Refueling System (NGAS). The Air Pressure shook up its tanker plans earlier this 12 months, introducing the brand new NGAS idea in January, promising an evaluation of alternate options within the fall, years sooner than beforehand deliberate. USAF officers have stated they need to area NGAS plane simply over a decade from now.  

That plan de-emphasized a “KC-Y” interim tanker to bridge the hole between the KC-46 and NGAS, lowering to 75 tankers the variety of tankers USAF would purchase. Air Pressure Secretary Frank Kendall additionally indicated much less curiosity in a brand new program, reasonably than merely including extra KC-46s. 

However some lawmakers have pushed again, annoyed with KC-46 maker Boeing’s efficiency on that tanker contract. They need a brand new competitors, and Lockheed Martin and Airbus have teamed up on another referred to as LMXT. 

An analogous effort failed final 12 months, however this time lawmakers took a distinct strategy. In a single provision, lawmakers voted to ban the Air Pressure from issuing an acquisition technique for the bridge tanker till it submits a enterprise case evaluation and “validated necessities from the Joint Employees for the contract competitors.”

A second provision requires a enterprise case evaluation and evaluation of alternate options for NGAS “primarily based on a extra reasonable timeline.” Some legislators seem skeptical that NGAS will likely be prepared by the mid-2030s—and a delay would presumably broaden the wants of the bridge tanker program. Lockheed officers have argued the 2035 timeframe is “a really, very aggressive goal.” 

A 3rd provision within the markup would prohibit the Air Pressure from shopping for greater than 179 KC-46s until its prime acquisition govt offers “validated wants of the Air Pressure” and value estimates for sustaining further KC-46s.  

None of those efforts would have an effect on present plans for the KC-46 fleet, which has held quick at 179 plane, however reasonably on any effort to expandl KC-46 purchases.

The fourth tanker provision touches on the KC-46’s deliberate Distant Imaginative and prescient System 2.0, an improve for the troubled imaginative and prescient system developed for growth operators to view the refueling growth remotely, reasonably than with a direct line of sight. Lawmakers need to prohibit RVS 2.0 from being launched into the KC-46 manufacturing line or retrofitted onto any already-built KC-46s till the Secretary of the Air Pressure confirms that it fixes the issues with the present system and resolves the excellent Class I deficiencies.  

A closing provision would prohibit the Air Pressure from lowering the variety of KC-135s within the Air Pressure Guard and Reserve. This is able to tie the palms of Air Pressure planners, who had greater than 220 KC-135s within the Guard and Reserve as of final Sept. 30. By making certain the Air Pressure can’t retire these plane, Home lawmakers are pulling from a longtime play record for guarding in opposition to cuts to the Air Nationwide Guard.