New tanker to bring increased capabilities to warfighter

  • Published
Air Force officials here announced Feb. 29 the selection of the Northrop Grumman Company to replace the aging KC-135 Stratotanker fleet. After months of reviewing and evaluating proposals from vendors, the source selection team chose Northrop Grumman to produce up to 179 of the new air refuelers.

The new tanker, called the KC-45A, is expected to enter the test phases in 2010 with the first mission-capable aircraft ready by 2013. The new tanker will bring increased airlift, force protection and most importantly, air refueling capabilities to the warfighter, said Lt. Gen. Donald J. Hoffman, military deputy in the office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition at the Pentagon.

Throughout the selection process, Air Force officials evaluated proposals based on the vendors' ability to meet nine key performance parameters and five evaluation factors.

"The performance parameters are the specific requirements we have for the aircraft, and the evaluation factors are how we grade the vendors on their ability to meet those requirements. The KC-45A must meet all of the key performance parameters," General Hoffman said.

The capabilities of the new tanker add increased operational flexibility for the air mobility world. The ability to provide aerial refueling for both boom-and-receptacle and probe-and-drogue aircraft in the same sortie is one example.

Currently, for most KC-135s to conduct probe-and-drogue refueling operations, a boom-drogue adapter must be attached to the boom before takeoff, preventing them from refueling receptacle-equipped aircraft in the same sortie.

"The new tanker will also be able to refuel two probe-equipped aircraft at the same time, a capability that's available with only 20 of the KC-135 fleet," General Hoffman said. "The KC-45A will have the capability to carry an air refueling pod on each wing. When wing pods are installed, the aircraft can provide fuel to two Navy or allied fighters at the same time, cutting almost in half the amount of time it takes a four-ship formation to cycle across the tanker."

Another advantage of the KC-45A is the ability to receive fuel, a capability only a handful of the current tankers possess, the general said. Being able to receive fuel means it can accept reserve fuel from another tanker allowing it to remain in the air longer.

The new tanker also will have increased cargo space for passengers, pallets and medical evacuation, as well as increased force protection measures against surface-to-air missiles, allowing it to traverse and land in high-threat environments.

"The KC-45 is a tanker first, but the cargo capacity will be very useful," the general said. "The new tanker will be able to haul people and cargo directly to military airfields instead of having to cross-load onto C-130 (Hercules aircraft) or C-17 (Globemaster IIIs), which is what we do now. It can also download fuel to storage bladders on the ground, which can be used to power ground vehicles instead of having convoys on the road. These are tremendous capabilities for air mobility commanders."

Air Force officials were committed to making a decision that would provide the best overall value to the warfighter and the taxpayers, he said.

"Although the contract will be awarded to Northrop Grumman, the real winners are the warfighter, the taxpayers and the nation," General Hoffman said. "For the warfighters, we are replacing old equipment with modern capability; the taxpayers are getting the best value deal in a very competitive environment; and the nation will maintain the capability to project air power and be responsive to its global responsibilities for decades to come."