US Debating Aerial Tanker Types, Mix

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KC-135 over Mt. Rushmore(click to view full) It has been a long road for the USA’s aerial tanker replacement competition. After the Darlene Druyun scandal and the linked but separate withdrawal of Boeing’s KC-767 lease proposal, the USA continues to examine its options. Some reports note that the existing tanker fleet of “more than 490” KC-135 Stratotankers (USAF figure, out of 732 built until 1966), derived from Boeing 707s, and 59 KC-10 Extenders derived from McDonell Douglas DC-10-30CFs, may be able to perform until 2040. Yet a combination of procurement momentum, steadily increasing and future-uncertain maintenance costs, and the impact of an unforeseen fleet-wide grounding for the USAF’s aging Boeing 707s continue to push the competition ahead. With a Phase One buy of around 175 aircraft, whose unmodified civil versions cost well over $100 million each, this could easily become a $100 billion program by the time all is said and done. Meanwhile, studies like “Brittle Swords: Low-Density, High-Demand Assets” [PDF] highlight the dangers and potential false economies of under-investment. KC-10 extends F/A-18C(click to view full) In the wake of the USAF’s recent RFI, industry-watchers are paying attention again. Boeing’s latest 10K investors’ report noted that the likelihood of KC-767 […]

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