Tanker shortage cancels Red Flag exercise

Update, Nov. 17: EADS now is predicting the tanker contract award will slip to next year. This is entirely consistent with what we have been hearing (first quarter) and what we understand Boeing believes as well.

Original Post:

A shortage of KC-135 refueling tankers, because of the high demand in Afghanistan and Iraq, forced the Air Force to cancel Red Flag, an annual exercise.

The Army Times first reported this event November 9. Strategy Page has an analysis about the aging tanker issue.

Strategy Page has a couple of obvious errors in its analysis, but the overarching point is well taken.

This illustrates the need for aerial tankers and how warfighting capability can be affected by a shortage of tankers. While the exercise was not canceled due to aging tankers, but rather competing interests, the point is nonetheless made.

45 Comments on “Tanker shortage cancels Red Flag exercise

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Tanker shortage cancels Red Flag exercise « Leeham News and Comment -- Topsy.com

  2. What kind of political stunt is the USAF pulling here? The USAF has 415 KC-135R/Ts and 59 KC-10As to refuel fixed wing aircraft. By their own admission to the Congress earlier this year, the KC-135 has an incommission rate of 90%, less the 19% that are in the depots at any given time. The (60 month) depot schedule, KC-135 is on a 5 year, that means the 19% in the depot is slightly better than the 20% it should be.

    Managing tanker assets is just like managing fighters, bombers, Command and Control, recee or cargo aircraft. It is a numbers game in both aircraft and crews.

    The tanker force, like some other assets such as the cargo force, is over extended due to USAF taking on more than they can chew. Many active duty tanker crews spend more than 240 days per year deployed all over the world, in some cases it is 300 day per year, every year.

    So, any shortage in the tanker force is self inflicted by the USAF. This has nothing to due with the age or relability of the KC-135.

  3. Obviously, 179 tanker – Spread over many years – Will not suffice. I’m starting to see the wisdom of a dual buy, although I’m not quite there yet – Boeing is certainly going to get the initial 179 strong contract, but maybe we should start thinking about KC-Y, where the KC-30(I’d like to remind EADS NA that the KC-45A contract was canceled, therefore there is no KC-45A recognized by the USAF) might work.

    • Be still my heart! Joanne, you stun us with your shifting position…. We’ve been advocating doubling the production and splitting the buy for two years. Now, can you persuade Norm Dicks, Patty Murray and Jay Inslee? (Todd Tiahrt and Sam Brownback are gone….)

      • Uwe :
        Are you related to Loren Thompson ;-?

        Uve,

        Scott, it hasn’t shifted at all. I would love to see the 777 win a future KC-Y contest. I just think we need more tankers then is currently planned for. To my mind, the KC-30 is a better replacement for the KC-10s… And without knowing the specifications, I would think that a KC-777 would be an even better long-term replacement for that platform.

        Calm down gentlemen. 🙂

  4. cit: “A shortage of KC-135 refueling tankers, because of the high demand in Afghanistan and Iraq, forced the Air Force to cancel Red Flag, an annual exercise.”

    I wouldn’t consider this USAF statement to be meant in earnest.
    I rather consider it as a sign for their growing impatience, they’re simply fed up with the situation.
    Regarding fuel tanker replacement, they want a final decision as soon as possible, as they are realizing the DoD funding situation is worsening by the day and if there is no fast decision taking place, acquisition of new tankers could soon be postponed indefinitely.

  5. OV-099 :
    Re. Loren Thompson
    http://blog.al.com/live/2010/11/can_air_tanker_contract_be_spl.html
    Check out the comment by Badger.

    The Lexington Institute as presented by Mr. Thompson and Mr. Goure is a mouthpiece for political guidance ( which is prone to change on occasion ).
    Any effective analysis that they could be capable of has to stand back
    behind their water hole interests. They are better at their core job than
    some other “analyst” who present a rabbid foaming at the mouth facade.
    ( Though there is a trend with those to be slightly less in your face riding a wave of new subtlety. semi OT: what happened to FleetBuzzEditorial? Did he get his rug pulled? ).

    • Re: fleetbuzzed,

      A few weeks ago, there was a notice that the site was down for maintenance until beginning of November. Now the date is 1st of December. Í wonder what I will see after that date.

  6. most KC-135’s are ANG or NR – might that have something to do with the “shortage”? are only USAF operated tankers eligible?
    Else, how can there be a shortage of equipment that only used for an average of… was it some 500 or 700 hour a year?
    Surely an additional 100? hours for an exercise wont affect the numbers of an 500+ strong fleet (0.2 hours a plane)

    Also, Why would you dual buy to increase the delivery rate. The AF is talking of taking ~15 ac/year. Why not just double that. Both a/c are/were build at 60+ per year, so going to 30 shouldn’t be a problem for either competitor.
    It might even lower the cost per a/c for EADS because they recoup the costs of the new assembly plant much quicker.

    • A dual buy makes strategic sense because there are some missions that are better suited for the KC45 than the KC767 (really long distances, high cargo/troop/medivac needs, for example)and some for which the KC767 is better suited (close-in, low volume missions).

      Politically, it’s the only way to get the damn thing done.

      • The USAF doesn’t have the annual pile of cash to support a dual buy. They don’t want to set up two lines, two training systems, two new logistics systems. They have other requirements to fill.

      • I agree with you last reason, but the first is true for any two non-equal airframes.
        There’s missions that are better suited to a 762 vs 764. In the end single sourcing this to Boeing and getting them to add the KC767 tech to 777 ASAP is another way to get the dissimilar platform benefits – and may actually work in the US as well. Get Boeing to put some work to Alabama and everyone could be happy… enough.

      • Actually no, that is not correct. The A-330MRTT (it is not, nor ever has been officially known as the “KC-45”, that is a USAF designation, not the EADS ‘official’ designation)carries just 20% more fuel than the KC-767NG, but burns, as much as 29% more fuel (according to Boeing, EADS says it is just 6% more). Boeing has not publicly released the cargo numbers for the KC-767NG, but the 2008 KC-767AT version carried the same cargo weight as the A-330MRTT).

        The A-330MRTT can carry more troops than the KC-767NG can, but the RFP requirement is to be able to self deploy on 6 tankers (called organic airlift), which both meet that requirement. The airlift and Medi-Vac missions are a secondary consideration to air refueling and organic airlift, according to the RFP/SRD.

        There is no mission outlined in the RFP/SRD that either tanker proposal cannot do, except the A-330MRTT cannot refuel the CV-22.

      • OK TopBoom – let’s nitpick.

        The EADS proposal for the KC-X RFP (which is based, but not equal to the A-330MRTT) Does carry more fuel, and offloads more fuel than the Boeing proposal at up to 1500nm radius (assuming your/Boeing’s numbers, 20% more fuel, 29% higher burn – data from AFPAM10-1403) – so as to Leehamnet’s comment above: Actually yes, that is correct.

        Last time around EADS/NG didn’t adequately show they could refuel the osprey, and Boeing failed to meet the required fuel offload rate through their boom. Let’s assume both international aviation powerhouses and can fix minor problem such as these.

  7. ikkeman :
    most KC-135′s are ANG or NR – might that have something to do with the “shortage”? are only USAF operated tankers eligible?
    Else, how can there be a shortage of equipment that only used for an average of… was it some 500 or 700 hour a year?
    Surely an additional 100? hours for an exercise wont affect the numbers of an 500+ strong fleet (0.2 hours a plane)
    Also, Why would you dual buy to increase the delivery rate. The AF is talking of taking ~15 ac/year. Why not just double that. Both a/c are/were build at 60+ per year, so going to 30 shouldn’t be a problem for either competitor.
    It might even lower the cost per a/c for EADS because they recoup the costs of the new assembly plant much quicker.
    </blockquote

    Unlike many of our European friends here, and I say this with all due respect, most Americans aren't worried about EADS recouping their investments (Which is their primary concern) but getting our war-fighters the tools they desperately need. Thank you for putting everything in context for us.

    • … Can I assume you do care about commercial institutions actually turning a profit rather than live of the teat of (foreign) governments – a so called “level playing field”? Also, I assume you prefer the USAF not pay more than the minimum required to get the mission done safely and timely?
      IF the USAF decides the EADS offer better meets the requirements, would it not be in your interest to have EADS recoup any investment quickly rather than tardy to avoid compound interest and other wasteful capital costs?

      By the way, the same is true for Boeing – but since their required up-front investment probably is lower, to a lesser extend. Thus, increasing the delivery rate of any KC-X champion will lower the cost per plane.

      • It seems you need to read RFP, ikkeman. The offered aircraft first has to meet all the requirements, then it is based on the lowest price, period.

        There is no deciding which offer “better meets the requirement”, as long as each proposal meets it.

  8. ikkeman :
    … Can I assume you do care about commercial institutions actually turning a profit rather than live of the teat of (foreign) governments – a so called “level playing field”? Also, I assume you prefer the USAF not pay more than the minimum required to get the mission done safely and timely?
    IF the USAF decides the EADS offer better meets the requirements, would it not be in your interest to have EADS recoup any investment quickly rather than tardy to avoid compound interest and other wasteful capital costs?
    By the way, the same is true for Boeing – but since their required up-front investment probably is lower, to a lesser extend. Thus, increasing the delivery rate of any KC-X champion will lower the cost per plane.

    No, I do not care whether they turn a profit or not. I’m more concerned about getting a tanker the Air Force wants, and frankly both designs are superb. Having said that, I also worry about my country’s industrial base and about my tax dollars and whether those tax dollars ultimately benefit the country the USAF protects.
    I agree with you that increasing the delivery rate would benefit both the Air Force and manufacturer. But let’s not kid ourselves here… Both designs are excellent, and if I had to choose only one, I’ll go for the home team.

      • EADS is worried about a profit on the KC-X program. They need the US money to help pay for the failed A-400, and A-380 programs, as well as the delayed A-350 program.

      • Of course Boeing is not troubled by trifles such as a positive profit margin?
        What with the biggest aircraft program (787) turning a nice profit, just like the 748…

        let’s not get down to this level. It’s been done to death on various other blogs.
        Other than their livery and marketing there’s not much difference between both companies. They both serve the same incestuous, government controlled market. They both work to the same standards and all their product go through the same certification process. They deal with the same questionable regimes and neither has any morals to base a higher ground on.
        In other words. They’re multinationals.

  9. US industrial base was killed when the large manufactures went Global and that includes Big B. That ship along with American Made has sailed. Only small manufactures can claim Made in the USA.

  10. That is why US Military weapons systems contract require 51% US made content.

  11. KC135TopBoom :
    EADS is worried about a profit on the KC-X program. They need the US money to help pay for the failed A-400, and A-380 programs, as well as the delayed A-350 program.

    unqualified “profit”s is not everything ( contrary to what some older naives believe )
    Airbus is quite interested in reducing currency risks.

    ( and as a recurring theme in your posting on various blogs you seem to have your data points slightly off )

  12. Uwe, where are my points of data “slightly off”?

    EADS blackmailed its own EU customers with cancelling the A-0400 program, and putting people out of work if they did not give into EADS’s demands of increased prices and guaranteed production of at least 170 airplanes, and without the capabilities the customers wanted. Then EADS demanded an “export facility loan” of E1.5B Euros. EADS got everything they demanded.

    When the realize the dollar is weakening against the Euro (assuming they win the KC-X contract), they will make the same demands on the US Government. Except they won’t have the leverage they have in the EU, here they will only have 1000 employees in Alabama.

    • Your fuel numbers are off, they don’t get any better by repeating,
      even if Mr. Goebbels once said heavy repetition produces “truth”.

      Your reality is condensed to “home team uber alles” and you lack
      the prudence to not spout that off at any unfitting occasion.

      Elsewhere I found your allegation that the Horton Brothers _must_
      have stolen their ideas from Mr. Northtrop hilarious to no end.

      • You seem to have not noticed I posted the fuel burn numbers from Boeing and EADS.

        Here is what I said in reply #20;

        “Actually no, that is not correct. The A-330MRTT (it is not, nor ever has been officially known as the “KC-45″, that is a USAF designation, not the EADS ‘official’ designation)carries just 20% more fuel than the KC-767NG, but burns, as much as 29% more fuel (according to Boeing, EADS says it is just 6% more).”

        • KC135TopBoom, (Comment #34)

          “You seem to have not noticed I posted the fuel burn numbers from Boeing and EADS.”

          Imagine the uproar if people started quoting performance numbers for Boeing aircraft that were estimates actually published by Airbus, and these people purported them to be factual (while incidentally including a comment in paranthesis where such numbers came from Airbus and that Boeing has different numbers). I personally don’t see Boeing supporters taking such an action lying down.
          I am not certain if you are trying to be disengenuous or have truly failed to consider/realise how that would look.

  13. KC135TopBoom :
    EADS is worried about a profit on the KC-X program.

    Wrong. We are worried about a LOSS on the KC-X program,
    incurred by Airbus/EADS.
    We heavily doubt delivered aircrafts ever will be paid for.

      • It could possibly be that Evin Ormond is trying to use the royal “we”, as in “I”!!

        Contrary to his assertion that Europeans do not want to win the KC-X competition, he is not speaking for all, and I highly doubt he is even speaking for a majority, when he is making such comments.

        Ironically enough, at least one of the unions (some of its leaders) at Airbus in France had publically spoken against EADS’ attitude about the “fairness” of this competition. Their take is that the USA should certainly buy home-made (if one can actually find something like that)and that France should do the same.

        I repeat, these are the comments of a couple of Union leaders. There is no evidence to support the assumption that a majority of people feel this way.

  14. I saw that artical back in 2008. Just propr to the USAF 2008 selection, the USAF announced that which ever tanker was selected, it would be given the MDS KC-45A.

    After the GAO reported on the missteps the USAF made in the 2008 KC-X selection process, and SecDef Bob Gates canceled the contract, the MDS for the A-330MRTT was withdrawn.

    • The designation KC-767 is a Boeing designation, they have 4 designations for the various KC-767 models, the KC-767A (Italy), KC-767J (Japan), KC-767AT (2008 KC-X proposal), and KC-767NG (2010 KC-X proposal).

      For a short time in 2003 the USAF agreed to give the KC-767 leased tankers the MDS of KC-767A. That MDS was not consistant with the MDS sequence and the USAF later dropped it.

      I don’t think EADS or Airbus ever used the designations of KC-330 or KC-330MRTT. Those were names attached to the airplane by blogs such as airliners.net bloggers. The EADS’s official name for the tanker is the A-330MRTT, and the RAAF now calls their version the KC-30A (formerly they called it the KC-30B when the KC-30A designation was being offered in the 2008 KC-X program).

      As I said, the USAF withdrew the KC-45A MDS when the contract in 2008 was canceled. You may recall Airbus claims they have two “USAF KC-45As” in storage without GE engines. EADS claims these two airplanes are the property of the USAF. But they are really “owned” by the NG and EADS team from the 2008 compitition and the USAF has not paid one dime for them. Just 10 days after the contract award on 29 Feb. 2008 to NG/EADS, Boeing filed their protest with the GAO. In accordance with the exsiting law the USAF issued a “stop all work on the contract” order to NG the very next day. However EADS continued to build the airplanes, dispite NG asking them to stop work on them.

      • But EADS & Northrop Grumann did or will get some compensation for the contract cancellation, right?

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