USAF Shakes Up Its Plan for Tankers: Fewer ‘Conventional’ Refuelers, Give attention to Stealth Future

The Air Pressure is dumping its decade-old technique of a three-phase tanker recapitalization plan, changing it with a method that can yield about 75 conventional tankers past the present run of the KC-46 after which give attention to a future, survivable tanker, Air Pressure acquisition govt Andrew Hunter stated March 6.

“We have now 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 power within the 2030s and past,” Hunter informed reporters on the AFA Warfare Symposium in Aurora, Colo.

The brand new Subsequent Era Air-refueling System, or NGAS, is “targeted on making certain” that USAF tankers within the mid-2030s and later “will have the ability to survive and function in a way more contested atmosphere than the tankers of the previous or the tankers which are in our present fleet,” which embody the KC-46, Hunter stated.

By means of evaluation performed as a part of Air Pressure Secretary Frank Kendall’s operational imperatives, Hunter stated 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 power “in all the important operations which are required for top depth battle.”

Hunter stated 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, primarily based on the Airbus A330, by 2024. By that point, USAF doesn’t need to be shopping for conventional tankers anymore, Hunter stated.

Shopping for 75 additional “conventional” tankers past the 179 KC-46s, USAF can persist with its schedule of retiring the KC-135 and KC-10, Hunter defined. After that, it’ll pursue a aggressive program for a brand new airplane, however he indicated the KC-46 presents one of the best alternative to “dovetail” with present manufacturing and never have a break in tanker recapitalization. The Air Pressure will resolve on find out how to strategy the acquisition of the 75 plane—whether or not will probably be sole supply or aggressive—within the subsequent few months, he stated. Both alternative 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’ll possible price extra; not solely due to new capabilities that might be added, however as a result of USAF acquired “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 might need needed to bear in any other case.   

“We do count on,” primarily based on the knowledge offered by Boeing and Lockheed, that “that that will lead us in 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 trade earlier than we make any last determinations.”

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

Kendall has for the final yr cautioned that the Air Pressure would in all probability forego a contest for a so-called “bridge tanker,” preferring to avoid wasting the time and cash of a contest and put these sources towards a extra superior plane. A second tranche of KC-46s would have new capabilities in communications and probably management of uncrewed air autos, Kendall has stated, however Hunter stated these further capabilities might 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 have been taking a look at a spot of … tanker manufacturing, beneath a aggressive strategy,” Hunter stated.

“The final stage of the enterprise case evaluation might be giving trade 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 yr,” he stated.

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

The Air Pressure desires to work with “all kinds of potential trade companions, with a purpose to inform our efforts and make it possible for the capabilities which are being thought-about within the AOA is one of the best, probably the most progressive 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 stated.

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

The Air Pressure revealed the NGAS identify and concept in a Jan. 31 solicitation to trade. In that request for data, it stated it seeks a brand new tanker to be in service circa 2040.

Requested if the NGAS technique is an try to end-run or wait out Congress—some members of that are sad with Boeing’s KC-46 efficiency and need to see extra tanker competitors—Hunter stated “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 it will “have an effect on our plans. I believe we’re very conscious of that.”

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