KC-135R Tanker’s Global Air Traffic Program Finished
The goal of the KC-135 Global Air Traffic Management program is to update the US aerial tanker fleet’s avionics. The last KC-135 was delivered in 1966, and civil aviation has seen considerable changes to navigation and safety avionics since then. In order to help the USA’s critical aerial tanker fleet run more smoothly, and give them the option of flying in civil airspace, updates were required.
That has spawned a number of sub-programs, from Pacer CRAG to the current Block 45 avionics effort.
- KC-135 GATM
- Contracts & Key Events, FY 2005 – Present
- Additional Readings
The GATM modification will allow the KC-135 fleet to meet forecast 2015 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards for the Communication, Navigation, Surveillance and Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) system, which permit shared access within both civil and military airspace and enable tanker refueling operations worldwide.
In 1999, Rockwell Collins won a contract potentially worth in excess $700 million, in order to upgrade the communications and navigation systems of more than 544 KC-135s to allow safe operation and certification in civil airspace around the globe. That effort followed and built on the $700 million 1996-2002 Pacer CRAG (compass, radar and global positioning system) program, which upgraded over 560 KC-135s between 1996-2002. The 100th GATM-modified KC-135 was delivered in October 2005, and the 200th in August 2007.
In a rare role reversal, however, Rockwell Collins selected Boeing to be their subcontractor, and to perform installations at its support site in San Antonio, TX. Rockwell Collins provides the equipment, and coordinates the delivery of various parts and products from their manufacturing facilities.
The KC-135 GATM program was delivered with very little cost growth, on schedule, and ahead of similar programs for other aircraft like the C-5 and C-17. It helps that the problem being addressed had a clear and well-developed civilian analogue. It also helped that the project took a strong stand in buying off-the-shelf, pre-certified systems whenever possible, and had a solid system safety engineering process that linked progress to safety acceptance by other government agencies. It also used a robust developmental and operational test program that began in the program’s early stages, instead of waiting until the end.
Rockwell Collins’ Principal Program Manager Miles Bramblett says that it currently takes workers about 60 days to finish upgrades on one airplane. The team, which works on 9 – 12 airplanes at once, is currently halfway through the upgrade process, and delivered the final tanker in 2011, as promised.
Contracts & Key Events, FY 2005 – 2011
Unless otherwise noted, the Air Logistics Center at Tinker AFB OK manages these contracts.
September 2011: Vol. 16, #4 [PDF] of Rockwell Collins’ internal Horizons magazine notes that GATM has now finished as a 100% on-time, on-budget program. They add that:
“Our company will continue to upgrade the C/KC- 135 as part of the Engineering, Manufacturing and Development phase of the C/K C-135 Block 45 cockpit upgrade program.”
Oct 27/10: Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, IA receives a maximum $9 million follow-on contract for avionics sustaining engineering services for the C/KC-135 series aircraft fleet. At this time, nothing has been obligated by the OO-ALC/GKCK at Tinker Air Force Base, OK (FA8105-11-D-0001).
April 21/10: ARINC Engineering Services, LLC announces a contract from Rockwell Collins to perform the initial installations of the KC-135 fleet’s Block 45 avionics upgrade, which is a step beyond the GATM contract. It’s included here for reference and context; DID will not offer ongoing coverage.
ARINC Aircraft Integration & Modification Defense Programs worked with Rockwell Collins on the KC-135 fleet’s Block 35 GATM installations for “Open Skies” compliant aircraft, and Block 40 Circuit Breaker Replacements. The Block 45 digital avionics upgrade program is intended to reduce current support costs, and will also support current and future navigation performance enhancements identified in the 2008 AMC CNS/ATM roadmap. Block 45 upgrades include a new autopilot/flight director, radar altimeters, removal of 21 analog instruments, and a modern large-format color digital engine instrument display in the cockpit.
ARINC will perform the work at its aircraft modification facility near Tinker AFB, Oklahoma City. Installations will begin in early 2011 with 2 prototype EMD (Engineering and Manufacturing Development) airframes.
Sept 14/09: Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, IA received a $33.5 million contract to modernize the KC-135 Stratotanker with a digital avionics suite, including a digital autopilot, flight director, radar altimeter and electronic engine instrument display. Prototype aircraft will be modified during the engineering, manufacturing and development phase to establish the production baseline for 415 additional KC-135R and T aircraft expected to receive the Block 45 cockpit upgrade, so that the KC-135 meets communication/navigation/surveillance and air traffic management (CNS/ATM) requirements for operating in commercial airspace throughout the world.
At this time $6.6 million has been obligated under the contract. The 827 ASG CONS at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma manages the contract (FA8105-09-C-0004). Rockwell Collins has modified and delivered more than 300 Global ATM (GATM) equipped KC-135 aircraft to date. Rockwell Collins release.
Feb 26/09: The US Air Force is modifying a firm-fixed-price contract with Rockwell Collins, Inc. of Cedar Rapids, IA. The $73.8 million order will provide an additional 46 kits and installs to support the KC-135R Global Air Traffic Management Program. OC-ALC/827 at Tinker Air Force Base, OK manages this contract (F33657-98-C-0036, P00106).
April 29/09: The USAF modifies a firm fixed price contract with Rockwell Collins Government Systems of Cedar Rapids, IA for $13.4 million, to modify and install 2 existing Global Air Traffic Management Program A & B kits to the OC-135B Open Skies Aircraft, an unarmed derivative of the C-135 that flies over Open Skies Treaty countries (F33657-98-C-0036, P00108).
Feb 26/09: A $73.8 million firm fixed price contract modification to Rockwell Collins, Inc. of Cedar Rapids, IA, to provide and install another 46 KC-135 Global Air Traffic Management Program kits. At this time, no money has been obligated (F33657-98-C-0036, P00106).
March 2/06: A $7.6 million firm fixed price contract modification to Rockwell Collins, Inc. of Cedar Rapids, IA, for additional spares to support the KC-135 Global Air Traffic Management (GATM) Program.
At this time, all funds have been obligated. Negotiations were complete in February 2006, and work will be complete September 2010 (F33657-98-C-0036/ P00069).
Jan 31/06: A $49 million firm fixed price contract modification to Rockwell Collins, Inc. of Cedar Rapids, IA, for additional KC-135 GATM Lot IV Kit Installations. At this time, all funds have been obligated, and work will be complete by June 2010 (F33657-98-C-0036/P000
July 22/05: A $9.1 million firm fixed price contract modification to Rockwell Collins, Inc. of Cedar Rapids, IA, to provide for 40 through 100 GATM modifications for the KC-135. No funds have been obligated. Negotiations were complete in July 2005, and work will be complete by September 2010 (F33657-98-C-0036, P00060).
Feb 25/10: A $7.3 million firm fixed price contract modification to Rockwell Collins, Inc. of Cedar Rapids, IA, for 6 Global Air Traffic Management (GATM) Lot III production kits, and Installation for the KC-135 GATM Modification. All funds have been obligated. Negotiations were completed February 2005, and work will be complete by April 2006 (F33657-98-C-0036-P00058).
Nov 30/04: A $31.4 million firm fixed price contract modification to Rockwell Collins, Inc. of Cedar Rapids, IA, for 25 GATM Lot III production kits and installation. All funds have been obligated. Negotiations were complete November 2004, and work will be complete by April 2006 (F33657-98-C-0036-P00055).
- Rockwell Collins – C/KC-135 GATM
- Rockwell Collins Horizons (Vol. 12, Issue 6) – A Dramatic Facelift for an Aging Aircraft
- AT&L Magazine (May-June 2004) – Aging Avionics Spell Doom For Air Force, Study Warns