The Air Force has drastically revised its plan for modernizing the aged aerial refueling fleet. By the mid-2030s, it wants to begin moving away from derivatives of commercial airframes and instead develop a stealthy, purpose-built military refueler than can survive in contested airspace. The shift is being driven by China’s growing ability to strike aircraft far beyond its borders. U.S. tactical aircraft have relatively short ranges, which could necessitate operating tankers that support them within range of Chinese defenses. That means at least a portion of the tanker fleet will need to be much more survivable. I have written a commentary on same for Forbes here.
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