The Next “Next Tanker”

Even as the first KC-46A aerial tankers are taking shape at Boeing’s assembly plant in Everett, Wash., the Air Force has begun defining requirements for the next leg of its 40-year air refueling recapitalization plan, according to Maj. Gen. John Thompson, program executive officer for tankers. In an Oct. 28 interview, Thompson said the Air Force proposed spending about $1 million in Fiscal 2014 and $1.5 million in Fiscal 2015 to start “future tanker capabilities work” on the KC-Y. It’s the middle leg of the strategy to replace the KC-135 fleet in two steps—the KC-X and KC-Y acquisitions—and the KC-10 fleet with a third—the KC-Z. Air Mobility Command and the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center are ready to do “pre-requirements work so that we can begin to take a look at what KC-Y will do,” said Thompson. The KC-Y will have to have “all the basic capabilities” of a tanker-airlifter, he said. The Air Force will also have to sort out issues for KC-Y in coming years like: “how close to contested airspace we’ll fly [it], what sort of defensive systems do we need to have in it, what’s the optimum altitude it will refuel at, how much gas it should carry,” he said. Notional schedules call for the KC-Y to buy out in the 2040-45 timeframe and the KC-Z in 2050-60.