The tanker roadmap laid out for Congressmen last week (see above) calls for USAF to retain its youngest KC-135Rs until 2043, or until they are about 86 years old. That will demand three major capability upgrades before 2015 and a major structural service life extension program starting in 2025. The service plans to retain about 500 KC-135Rs until 2018, when they will start to retire at a rate of about 20 per year. To keep its other tankers—the KC-10s—viable during this extended tanker replacement schedule, the Air Force will need to provide them some service life stretching. The KC-10 needs a big avionics update starting in 2011 and a major SLEP in 2031. The KC-10s would remain in inventory until 2049—when they will be a spry 69 years old.
Reports of production troubles on the SpaceX rocket that could contend for military cargo deliveries happened to coincide with a different company’s concept receiving an early nod—one that might not require a rocket at all.