Inside Track?

Given that the Air Force will be operating 179 KC-46As and have an organic logistics support system for them in place when it’s time to buy the next installment of tankers, does the KC-46 have an inside track for the follow-on buy? It’s way too early to say, according to Maj. Gen. John Thompson, the Air Force’s tanker program executive officer, in an Oct. 28 interview. The KC-Y requirements process has just begun, and still to be determined is just how much the Air Force will invest in an organic KC-46 logistics train, or whether to depend on the existing worldwide commercial support network for the Boeing 767, on which the KC-46 is based. “It all depends on the requirements,” said Thompson. “I can foresee a situation where the [KC-Y] requirements are drastically different. But I can also foresee a situation where the requirements are very similar,” he said. Boeing is scheduled to deliver 179 KC-46s by 2027; to keep recapping the 1950s-vintage KC-135s without a break will mean the KC-Y needs to get going around 2025. That timing may be problematic, though: by then, the Air Force will also be starting Long Range Strike Bomber production and will still be only halfway to filling out its F-35 strike fighter fleet.