Clarification on KC-135E Retirements

The Air Force yesterday clarified its plans on retiring or grounding its remaining KC-135E aircraft. We reported that the service would accelerate the retirements so that all remaining KC-135Es were retired by the end of the fiscal year. Yesterday USAF said there is a distinction between outright retirement and grounding as a prelude to retirement. The Fiscal 2008 defense bill prohibits USAF from retiring more than 48 of its KC-135Es, and some of those groundings are conditional on the now-delayed award of the KC-X contract for a new tanker. Some have already been sent to the boneyard this year. For the remainder, the numbers are as follows: 43 KC-135Es were in service at the end of June. Of those aircraft, “nine are flying and 34 are in XJ status,” an Air Mobility Command spokesman said. USAF defines XJ as “warm storage on the unit’s flightline.” That means they get some minimal maintenance, but don’t fly either because their inspections have expired, there aren’t any crews to fly them, their ground crews have been transferred to the KC-135R, or there isn’t enough money to fix them. “The Air Force expects to have 37 KC-135Es by 30 September 2008, all in XJ status, and will retire these aircraft” in Fiscal 2009 if the new tanker program gets underway. “Until retirement, they will not fly due to expired inspections/waivers or the lack of [operations and maintenance] funding,” the AMC spokesman said. The KC-135E is “the oldest, least capable, most expensive KC-135 variant to operate. E-models have the lowest availability and are the most problematic of the KC-135 fleet to maintain,” AMC asserted.