Lockheed Martin and Airbus have signed an agreement to jointly explore opportunities for the aerial refuelling of US and allied defence customers, it was announced on 4 December.
The companies will seek to provide aerial-refuelling services to address any identified capacity shortfall, and to meet the future tanking requirements of the US and its allies.
In a joint statement, the companies said they are "taking a co-operative approach to examine a broad spectrum of opportunities", with the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) at the core of this effort. "These [opportunities] may range from ways to support critical near-term air-refuelling needs, such as a fee-for-service structure to conceptualising the tanker of the future," the statement said.
While Airbus brings its market-leading A330 MRTT to the arrangement, Lockheed Martin touted its history of systems integration, manufacturing, and maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) operations with large airlift and tanker aircraft.
The USAF currently fields 510 tankers in the form of 59 McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Extenders; 342 Boeing KC-135R Stratotankers; 54 KC-135T Stratotankers; 18 Lockheed Martin MC-130H Combat Talon IIs; and 37 MC-130J Commando IIs. Even with the MC-130H/Js that are reserved for special mission duties, this is only about half of the capacity that the commander of the US Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) says is needed.
Speaking before Congress in April 2017, General Darren McDew said that the shortfall in the USAF's air-to-air refuelling capacity was causing him "to lose sleep at night". With this and ongoing delays to the Boeing KC-46A Pegasus, plans to retire the KC-10A from 2019 to 2024 are being reconsidered, Gen McDew added.
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