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Secretary, chief reiterate need for new tanker

Numerous KC-135 Stratotankers sit on the flightline at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Air Force officials announced the selection of the Northrop Grumman company to replace the aging KC-135 Stratotanker fleet. Up to 179 of the new air refuelers, called the KC-45A, is expected to enter the test phases in 2010 with the first mission-capable aircraft by 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Joshua Strang)

Numerous KC-135 Stratotankers sit on the flightline at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Air Force officials announced the selection of the Northrop Grumman company to replace the aging KC-135 Stratotanker fleet. Up to 179 of the new air refuelers, called the KC-45A, is expected to enter the test phases in 2010 with the first mission-capable aircraft by 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Joshua Strang)

SAN ANTONIO (AFPN) -- The Air Force must start buying new tankers now since it will take decades to replace its aging KC-135 Stratotankers, the Air Force secretary said.

Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne said the service cannot buy its next fleet of tankers -- as yet to be determined -- any faster than the Air Force bought them in the 1950s and 1960s.

"We want it as soon as possible," he told a roundtable discussion group at the Air Force Association's 2006 Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition in Washington, D.C., Sept. 26.

"There is no interest here in any kind of delay," he said.

The same day the secretary made that statement, and a day after the Air Force put out a draft request for bids on a new tanker, the Boeing Company announced it had the aircraft the Air Force needs -- its 777 commercial airliner.

However, the service does not suggest who the manufacturer should be. In February, in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee subcommittee on projection forces, Lt. Gen. Donald J. Hoffman said as much.

"It should be a new aircraft, a commercial derivative, and I think we ought to buy one kind," said the general, military deputy for Air Force acquisition. "The first 100 (should) all look the same."

However, the secretary said the Air Force could select more than one tanker aircraft. That may be a good thing for the service, he said.

"That having been said, we are fully committed to an open and fair competition and we will test the market when the opportunity presents it," Secretary Wynne said. "But this initial buy looks to me like we have a preference for a single award."

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley said the tanker issue continues to be a top priority.

"The single point failure for everything we do -- global strike, globalized air bridges, global mobility -- is the jet tanker," General Moseley said.

With a fleet of KC-135s averaging 45 years in age, the general said, the Air Force "still can't deploy into the Arabian Gulf."

"So when you ask about the priorities, this is a high priority -- to be able to get on with this program and field this system," he said.

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