The High Price of Delay

Things will get very ugly very quickly if there is much delay in the KC-X tanker replacement program, AMC chief Gen. Arthur Lichte told attendees Wednesday at AFA’s Air & Space Conference. A protest of the award—now expected in January—coupled with a buy of only eight per year instead of 15, would compel the Air Force to fly KC-135s until 2082, Lichte said. That scenario assumed a protest situation like the one surrounding the combat search and rescue helicopter replacement program and a production cut like the one Congress imposed early in the C-17 program. The result would be like expecting the Question Mark, the 1929 version of an aerial refueler, to refuel F-35s in 2011. The KC-135s would be 132 years old at retirement. “We have to move on” with tanker recapitalization, Lichte said, adding that the fleet is running “on the backs of our people,” who are struggling to keep the KC-135 flying.