The U.S. Air Force wants to buy 140-160 commercial derivative tankers following completion of the present KC-46 production run in 2029. The effort is called a bridge tanker because it is the transition to a next-generation aerial refueler. Boeing and Airbus are both are likely to bid, in a replay of the competition that Boeing won ten years ago. There isn’t much reason to expect it will go differently this time since they are bidding the same basic airframes. The Airbus offering is bigger than the Boeing offering, but it isn’t clear that is advantageous given the amount of space it takes up on the ground and the amount of fuel it consumes in the air. Having a fleet split between two different tankers is likely to be more expensive than just buying one aircraft type, due to the need for different training procedures and spare parts. And the Airbus tanker would need to be upgraded to KC-46 standards (at least), entailing significant engineering challenges and prolonged certification testing. So at the moment, Boeing’s KC-46 looks like the plane to beat. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
Find Archived Articles: