18 May 06. Jim Stratford and Mike McCloy of Northrop Grumman gave BATTLESPACE Editor Julian Nettlefold an overview of Northrop Grumman’s participation in the forthcoming requirement to supply the U.S.A.F. with its tanker requirement.
“This is a huge requirement, valued at up to $200bn over 40 years when you include support” Stratford said, “It is probably the last big air platform program for the foreseeable future.”
Quite clearly the requirement is huge; although no RFP has been received the company has responded to the RFI. In real terms the requirement is to replace a potential of 550 tankers.The inventory is currently 530 KC-135s, the last of which was delivered in 1965 and 59 KC-10s, the last of which was delivered in 1988.
“The most likely scenario we see is for a buy of about 400 tankers to replace the current ageing fleet,” Stratford said. “With the efficiency of modern aircraft the Air Force won’t have to replace the KC-135s on a one-for-one basis.” The Rand Corporation’s study has computed that one Boeing 767 will deliver the equivalent of 1.1 KC-135s while one KC-30 will deliver the equivalent of 1.3 KC-135s.
“The KC30 we are offering has the advantage of having all the fuel stored in the wings, (Editor: The KC-30 has the same wings as the A340 but with two engines. The hose & drogue refueling pods use the outboard engine mounts and hookups to the A330’s fueling system.). This allows our tanker to carry more palletized cargo or personnel or both,” said Stratford. “The KC-30 has the ability to carry cargo below decks as well. By providing an increased capability for palletized cargo the KC-30 would also free the C-17 fleet to undertake its prime role as an airlifter for outsized and oversized cargo like helicopters or tanks.”
The Northrop Grumman/EADS joint bid provides the U.S.A.F. with the comfort of EADS’s abilities to supply airframes to the civil sector and tankers to such countries as Australia and the U.K., with the latter still to be ironed out in terms of PFI detail.
It is possible, based on a number of unforeseen variables, that a split procurement might take place, with both Boeing and Northrop Grumman providing the U.S. Air Force with tankers. At peak procurement either company may only be able to supply 15 a year given budget pressures, which would give a timescale of more than 25 years to fulfill, one that may not meet the U.S.A.F’s requirements given the age of the “newest” KC-135s in the fleet would be approaching 75 years old. Some say that the last KC-135 pilot hasn’t been born yet!
BATTLESPACE understands that given the winding down of the Boeing 767 line that the company may offer a 777 option for the requirement.
“How soon do you expect an RFP to be issued?” the Editor asked
“We expect an RFP by January for contract award summer next year. There is money in the 07 Budget for this requirement, to start what we expect to be the first increment of 100 aircraft.”
“Given the tightness of the civil airliner market due to booming sales, how do you propose to fulfill this requirement in the timescale required?”
“Both ourselves and EADS are establishing dedicated facilities in Mobile, Alabama. EADS will assemble “green aircraft” which will then be towed over to our manufacturing center to be converted to tankers with the refueling boom, wing pods, USAF avionics and conversion to cargo versions with doors and reinforced floors. This could also include provisions for a NCW module.”
The first A330 for the Royal Australian Air Force’s multi-role tanker/transport (MRTT) acquisition has rolled off the production line and completed initial evaluations, while the advanced fly-by-wire refueling boom that will equip it has wrapped up a preliminary series of in-flight tests.
These two milestones are important steps in the development of the world’s most advanced aerial tanker, which has been chosen by both the Royal Australian Air Force and the United Kingdo