After a long and difficult gestation, the Air Force seems to be getting comfortable with its KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling tanker. However, it needs to begin making plans for the next round of tanker procurement, and Congress may not let it proceed without conducting a competition. That would pit Boeing’s KC-46 against Lockheed Martin’s LMXT, the latter based on a tanker variant of the Airbus A330. It might seem like a replay of the contest that resulted in Boeing winning the tanker modernization franchise in 2011, but a lot has changed during the intervening years. U.S. defense strategy is now focused on the Pacific, new technologies have become available, Boeing has been working with the Air Force on its tanker for over a decade, the company’s financial situation is less robust, and partisan alignments have shifted in Congress. All of these factors could come into play in any new tanker competition. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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