USAF Shakes Up Its Plan for Tankers: Fewer ‘Conventional’ Refuelers, Concentrate on Stealth Future

AURORA, Colo.—The Air Pressure is dumping its decade-old technique of a three-phase tanker recapitalization plan, changing it with a method that may yield about 75 conventional tankers past the present run of the KC-46 after which concentrate on a future, survivable tanker, Air Pressure acquisition government Andrew Hunter mentioned March 6.

“We’ve got come to the dedication that the type of KC-X, -Y, -Z technique that was established within the 2009-2010 timeframe is not match for … assembly the air refueling wants of the joint pressure within the 2030s and past,” Hunter instructed reporters on the AFA Warfare Symposium.

The brand new Subsequent Technology Air-refueling System, or NGAS, is “centered on making certain” that USAF tankers within the mid-2030s and later “will be capable of survive and function in a way more contested setting than the tankers of the previous or the tankers which are in our present fleet,” which embrace the KC-46, Hunter mentioned.

By means of evaluation accomplished as a part of Air Pressure Secretary Frank Kendall’s operational imperatives, Hunter mentioned there are too many “threats which are posed by potential adversaries to high-value plane, together with tankers,” and USAF wants an strategy that addresses these threats whereas nonetheless assembly its obligations to refuel the joint pressure “in the entire important operations which are required for top depth battle.”

Hunter mentioned the Air Pressure consulted with Boeing and Lockheed Martin on once they might ship new tankers after Boeing finishes its present contract for 179 KC-46s. Boeing might produce an uprated KC-46 by 2032 and Lockheed might present an “LMXT” tanker, based mostly on the Airbus A330, by 2034. By that point, USAF doesn’t wish to be shopping for conventional tankers anymore, Hunter mentioned.

Shopping for 75 additional “conventional” tankers past the 179 KC-46s, USAF can stick with its schedule of retiring the KC-135 and KC-10, Hunter defined. After that, it is going to pursue a aggressive program for a brand new airplane, however he indicated the KC-46 provides the very best alternative to “dovetail” with present manufacturing and never have a break in tanker recapitalization. The Air Pressure will determine on methods to strategy the acquisition of the 75 plane—whether or not will probably be sole supply or aggressive—within the subsequent few months, he mentioned. Both selection would require negotiations, however a sole supply award to Boeing might transfer this system quicker. He famous that if the KC-46 is chosen, it is going to possible price extra; not solely due to new capabilities that shall be added, however as a result of USAF obtained “an excellent deal” on the KC-46.

The KC-46 has been a fixed-price contract that Boeing knowingly underbid. Up to now, the corporate has taken greater than $6 billion in losses on this system, prices that USAF may need needed to bear in any other case.   

“We do count on,” based mostly on the knowledge supplied by Boeing and Lockheed, that “that which will lead us in the direction of KC-46 as the reply … to that ‘five-year KC-135 recapitalization effort,’  is what we’re calling it,” Hunter famous. “However we do want to listen to from business earlier than we make any last determinations.”

The plan for KC-Y had been to purchase about 150 extra conventional tankers, Hunter mentioned, however the brand new plan will “speed up” the acquisition of extra superior plane for the mission.

Kendall has for the final 12 months cautioned that the Air Pressure would in all probability forego a contest for a so-called “bridge tanker,” preferring to save lots of the time and money of a contest and put these assets towards a extra superior plane. A second tranche of KC-46s would have new capabilities in communications and presumably management of uncrewed air automobiles, Kendall has mentioned, however Hunter mentioned these additional capabilities shall be scaled again within the new scheme.

“We are going to go on contract for the final of these [179 KC-46s] in FY 2027 and take deliveries of these plane in 2029. So we had been a spot of … tanker manufacturing, beneath a aggressive strategy,” Hunter mentioned.

“The final stage of the enterprise case evaluation shall be giving business details about our revised path ahead and getting their responses about what they’ll present after which make a sourcing dedication … by the center of this … calendar 12 months,” he mentioned.

An evaluation of alternate options will get underway this 12 months for the NGAS, and Hunter mentioned that course of might take 18 months “to a few years.” He additionally mentioned the Air Pressure is wanting towards an “increment one” of NGAS, and that the plane is perhaps iterated in a number of variants, so as to get a stealthy tanker as quickly as potential.

The Air Pressure needs to work with “all kinds of potential business companions, so as to inform our efforts and guarantee that the capabilities which are being thought of within the AOA is the very best, essentially the most revolutionary and efficient choices which are on the market. … We are going to have a look at a clear sheet of paper strategy not constrained to business by-product plane,” Hunter mentioned.

The NGAS should have “the power to go deeper into contested airspace … extra superior self-protection-type capabilities, extra superior networking capabilities,” Hunter mentioned.

The Air Pressure revealed the NGAS title and thought in a Jan. 31 solicitation to business. In that request for data, it mentioned it seeks a brand new tanker to be in service circa 2040.

Requested if the NGAS technique is an try and end-run or wait out Congress—some members of that are sad with Boeing’s KC-46 efficiency and wish to see extra tanker competitors—Hunter mentioned “there’s not a manner round Congress.” If Capitol Hill “doesn’t just like the plan that I’ve simply described to you, they are going to have one thing to say about it” and this can “have an effect on our plans. I feel we’re very conscious of that.”

He mentioned the Air Pressure will “make our greatest case that that is the best plan, the best path going ahead … And we’ll get suggestions. We’ll see what comes out within the … draft laws and can reply accordingly.”