Air Force officials begin search for new aerial tanker

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Russell Petcoff
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
Senior Department of Defense and Air Force officials announced the rollout of the KC-X Acquisition Program at a Pentagon briefing Sept. 24. Air Force leaders are seeking a replacement for the KC-135 Stratotanker that has been a stalwart of the tanker fleet for more than 53 years.

Today, the department is announcing its acquisition strategy for a replacement aerial refueling tanker fleet for the aging KC-135 and KC-10 fleet, said William J. Lynn, deputy secretary of defense. He termed the search to be a "best value" competition, not one based solely on cost.

"We tried to play this straight down the middle," Mr. Lynn said.

Michael Donley, secretary of the Air Force, and Ashton B. Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, also took part in the hour-long briefing.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates returned the KC-X program to the Air Force during an address he gave at the 2009 Air Force Association Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition at the National Harbor Convention Center, Oxon Hill, Md., Sept. 16.

"I don't need to belabor the importance of getting this done soon and done right," Secretary Gates said. "I have confidence that the KC-X selection authority is in good hands with the service's leadership team of Secretary Donley and (Air Force Chief of Staff) General (Norton) Schwartz."

Secretary Donley said the KC-135 first joined the service's inventory in August 1956, with the youngest one dating to 1964. The ever-accumulating age of the tanker fleet is driving this effort, he said.

"We need to move on with this recapitalization," Secretary Donley said. Air Force officials hope to announce a KC-X decision in the summer of 2010.

Currently, there are 415 KC-135s in the Air Force inventory. The KC-X program calls for 179 new tankers over 15 years, according to Secretary Donley.

The first production KC-X delivery is planned for 2015, Secretary Donley said, with a planned initial operating capability of 2017.

"As we integrate the KC-X into the fleet, we will begin evaluating our future tanker needs and begin work on the second phase, KC-Y," Secretary Donley said. A third phase is called KC-Z.

KC-X must be a highly capable and go-to-war-on-day-1-ready aircraft for the warfighter, Secretary Donley said.

"We expect the KC-X to be far more capable than the KC-135," Secretary Donley said.

The KC-X has several mandatory requirements, according to Secretary Donley. It must have:

· a permanent centerline drogue to refuel receptacle and probe-equipped aircraft;

· a receiver receptacle to allow it to refuel from KC-135s, KC-10s or another KC-Xs;

· an integrated Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures system, which the current tankers do not have; and

· improved communications; navigation and air traffic capabilities to allow it global airspace access. 

Mr. Carter said the source selection strategy will be objective to ensure contractors bidding on KC-X know what it takes to win. He said it'll also be transparent so when a winner is chosen everyone can understand why that bidder won. 

Mr. Carter said the RFP favors "no one but the warfighter and taxpayer."