Given the Air Force’s wide-ranging needs and budget constraints, a dual buy of new tanker aircraft isn’t viable, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley told the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday. “This would be an expensive way to proceed,” he said. The Air Force plans to award a singled KC-X tanker contract later this year and then procure about 15 new airframes annually from that supplier until the 179-aircraft recapitalization is complete. If there were two suppliers, then “the minimum economic order for each line would probably be about 12 aircraft,” meaning the annual buy would jump to 24 tankers, Donley explained. Not only would that be “very inefficient,” it would also cause “a big bump” in the service’s budget and divert funds from other priorities. “We have to manage this procurement in the context of all other things that the Air Force is doing,” he said.
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.