Latest updates: $20M for fleet engineering support.
KC-135 & RNoAF F-16, Afghanistan
While Boeing and EADS duke it out for the USA’s $20-30 billion KC-X order of about 175 aerial tankers with secondary cargo capacity, the existing KC-135 fleet still needs to be maintained. Based on the 707 airliner’s initial designs, the KC-135s first entered service in 1954, and they were delivered until 1965. Despite their age, they remain the mainstay of the USA’s aerial tanker fleet as it helps fighters make long-distance flights, keeps US and foreign combat air patrols on station, refuels transports on their way to remote destinations, and generally makes long-range force projection possible.
Unforeseen mechanical issues and the accompanying fleet groundings would create a crippling bottleneck in this defining array of American airpower capabilities, which is why KC-X was designated as the USAF’s highest procurement priority. Meanwhile, the KC-135s need to be well and carefully maintained in order to avoid that bottleneck. Which is why Boeing received a $1.1 billion, 10-year contract to maintain the USAF’s KC-135 fleet, after breaking with its former partners at Pemco/AAII. That kicked off a series of competitions, appeals, and reversals that reached all the way to American appeals courts: