Tanker contract cancelled

My first assignment was Fairchild AFB, home of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing and KC-135 stratotankers. I had the opportunity to fly with the crews there a dozen or so times and witness the amazing abilities to “pass gas” at thousands of feet above the globe and at hundreds of miles per hour. DOD announced yesterday that the aerial refueling tanker program, an effort to replace the aging KC-135 fleet, would hold off until the next Presidential administration. The Air Force said: “The Air Force supports Secretary Gates‘ decision to withdraw the RFP and give an incoming administration a clean start. We look forward to working with OSD to obtain a tanker for the warfighter.”

Posted by Capt. David Faggard, Air Force Public Affairs

One thought on “Tanker contract cancelled”

  1. Air Force Tanker Aircraft – Overhaul the fleet!
    Air to air refueling is at the heart of our Air Force doctrine. Without air-to-air refueling, the Air Force would not be able to wage war. Nuclear deterrence, rapid global reach/power, and close air support are examples that barely scratch the surface of the missions and capabilities that benefit from air to air refueling. The aircraft that implement this priceless capability are growing old and maintenance costs are continuing to rise. Either Boeing (Boeing 767) or Northrop Grumman (Airbus A330) will replace the KC-135 Stratotanker as soon as the Air Force successfully negotiates a contract. Some individuals support a “split tanker buy” as a solution to avoid lengthy protests from the losing bidder. I support the “split tanker buy” because in additional to replacing the KC-135, it is also time to replace our inefficient wide body KC-10 Extender tanker fleet. The logical solution is to pursue the procurement of two modern air-to-air refueling aircraft that are already in use and employed by our international partners.
    While the KC-10 is an exemplary tanker platform, its design has many inefficient limitations. Take for example the #2 engine on the tail. This represents a maintenance challenge when it is time to repair or replace an engine that is three stories high. Additional labor, time, and equipment required to work on this engine is excessively higher than a wing mounted engine. Both the Boeing and Northrop Grumman tanker aircraft have easily maintainable wing mounted engines.
    Additionally, the KC-10 design utilizes a Flight Engineer who represents the systems expert in terms of operating the aircraft. Much in the same way modern avionics replaced the Navigator; modern aircraft are replacing the Flight Engineer. Automation allows for the elimination of an additional crew position while increasing payload capability. FedEx, the second largest owner of DC-10 aircraft, is currently upgrading their DC-10-30 fleet. This modification automates the Flight Engineer position allowing the company to reduce manpower while increasing overall payload capability. Both Boeing and Northrop Grumman tankers have eliminated the Flight Engineer position with automation.
    The two more efficient aircraft competing to become the next Air Force Tanker are the Boeing 767 and the Airbus A330. These aircraft are in wide use all across the world not only in the civilian sector, but in the military sector as well. Boeing has contracts to provide Italy and Japan each with four KC-767 tanker aircraft. According to the Airbus military website, “A330…has won all international tanker competitions with contracts signed by the governments of Australia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.” The ability to involve coalition partners increases dramatically when countries are using the same equipment. Purchasing both aircraft would foster international partnerships, ease current Air Force tanker shortfalls by employing allied tanker support in future conflicts, and allow individuals of the United States Air Force to promote partnership in exchange programs.
    It is time to overhaul and replace the Air Force tanker fleet. The KC-10 is an inefficient aircraft in terms of maintenance and additional aircrew. While the civilian version is still in use by cargo companies like FedEx, even they are modifying their aircraft to reduce manpower and increase cargo capabilities. Retiring the KC-10 along with the KC-135 and purchasing two new modern tanker aircraft will modernize our 1950’s and 1970’s fleet, align our capabilities with our allies, and bring the backbone of our Air Force into the 21st century.

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