USAF considers scrapping KC-10 in sequester

KC-10 scrapping: The US Air Force is considering scrapping the KC-10 aerial tanker fleet as a result of budget cutbacks in the sequester, The Army Times reports. This is stunning news, considering the seven year battle to recapitalize the Boeing KC-135 tanker fleet.

There are 59 KC-10s, based on the McDonnell Douglas DC-10. McDonnell Douglas  merged with Boeing in 1997.

Boeing one day hopes to develop a tanker based on the 777-200LRF to replace the KC-10 and we expect Airbus Military will offer the A330 MRTT or even a tanker based on the A350, but we certainly didn’t expect any prospect of retiring the KC-10 prematurely.

21 Comments on “USAF considers scrapping KC-10 in sequester

  1. One gets the feeling there is way more going on behind the scenes of such budgetary processes than one can imagine. I wonder how much USAF budgetary officials are in communication with members of congress during this process.

  2. Actually, this makes more sense than first look. The KC-10A first entered the USAF inventory back in the early 1980s. The USAF has never spent a lot of money in modifying the KC-10 to keep it up with missions and flying in air space. The KC-10 does very little air refueling compared to the KC-135. It is mostly used for airlift, which the USAF has excess capacity of.

    With wars winding down, less air refueling and airlift capability are needed.

    Then again, Aero Ninja may be right, this may be a budget bluff by the USAF in an attempt to get more budget money. The KC-10s are stationed in California and New Jersey, and they pour a lo of money into those economies. CA and NJ are very big Blue Sates.

    • “With wars winding down, less air refueling and airlift capability are needed.”
      What type of tanker would the USAF need in case of a conflict within the Chinese Sea?

      The C-17 is more expensive to move palletized cargo than a KC-10. I doubt therefore that scrapping the KC-10 would save any money at all.

      What about the A-10 also mentioned in the article? With what aircraft will the USAF replace that beast? Don’t make me laugh and say the F-35! Is the USAF trying to get rid of this “ugly” bird and try to transfer it to the US Army?

      • The USAF would still have plenty of tankers to fight in the western Pacific.

        I have never heard any call the KC-135 a “tarmac queen”. The KC-135 has among the highest mission ready rates in the USAF, despite its age. It have some of the best maintainers in the USAF, and it is a good solid design.

    • actually the 59 kc10s, only 10-20 in the AOR depending on time of year offload over half of the fuel in the AOR. it can also carry almost double the fuel the 135 can, and believe me they are not mainly used as “airlift” they fly dozens of A/R missions a day whether in the AOR or dragging fighters. On top of that they can refuel with boom and drogue in the same sortie unlike the 135. congress will not get rid of the 10, thats for sure.

  3. Democrats want defense spending cuts only.
    Republicans want cuts across-the-board.
    IMO Pentagon budget cuts will stay (with some ugly sequestration cases fixed.)

  4. Maybe the large multi-mission aircraft like the KC-10, 330, and proposed 777 are obsolete. Dedicated 767 tankers and 748 freighters are a more efficient future.

    • KC-135 was and is the one trick pony. That’s why this type of aircraft is still around. Another name for KC-135 is “Tarmac Queen”. The 767 is a dedicated freighter and troop mover and at third place a tanker. Just read what Air Mobility Command and others were thinking about:
      (The table “Cost per hour per cargo pallet” is very interesting.)
      “General Norton A. Schwartz, Commander, US Transportation Command, is on record stating his need for tanker flexibility: ‘I am looking for versatility; single-mission airplanes don’t give that. The Secretary of Defense went to Baghdad in a C-17. Would I send [him] to Baghdad in a C-17 if I had a KC-X? Probably not, I would use the C-17 in a better way.’ ‘If I had a properly configured tanker that had
      doors and floors, could carry passengers, and defensive systems, I could…return the C-17 either to moving cargo or reduce the tempo.’ “

  5. The KC135 IMO never was a one trick pony, it has been used in many roles, passenger, VIP, ELINT, AWACS, pallets, AF1, tanker, ..

    • A KC-135 can carry 35 passengers or six 463L pallets and additional 4 passengers (pallets are restricted to 65 inches and 6,000 lbs). That is not a full trick. Even a 707 can carry 13 pallets. A KC-10 can carry 69 passengers AND 17 pallets (

      The VIP, ELINT, AWACS and AF1 versions were different ponies. A KC-46 could carry 15 pax and 18 pallets or 118 pax only. KC-45 could carry 15 pax and 32 pallets or 226 soldiers with gear stored on 6 pallets + 3 LD3 .

      In 2006 AMC moved with over 200 KC-135 about 285 metric tons of freight and with 59 KC-10 more than 1,700 t. In comparison to KC-10, KC-45/46 the KC-135 for me is a one trick pony.

      There are other tricks. All 59 KC-10 can refuel with boom and a drogue-and-hose within on mission. Just 20 KC-135 got wing pods (I am aware of the Boom Drogue Adapter). That is not nice to the US Navy fighters . Just a few KC-135 can be refueled (8?).

      • The KC-135 airframe has been used in 26 different missions and 29 different models. The KC-135 can carry up to 75 pax and 5 cargo/baggage bins and still be able to refuel other aircraft. The 463L pallet is relatively new to the KC-135. The max cargo weight the KC-135 can airlift is 83,000 lbs.
        The KC-135 has been fitted with the ‘smart tanker’ technology allowing it to be a battle management platform during refueling missions. The KC-46 will have it, too. The KC-10 was not given this capability. The KC-135A/Q was capable of flying as fast as .95M, with the new engines speed has dropped to about .92M, still among the fastest large airplanes of the world. The KC-135 is also capable of defensive tactics the KC-10 cannot do. The KC-135 once had a 4 man crew, now it has 3, the KC-10 has a 4 man crew and cannot become a 3 man crew without the FedEx MD-10 modification.

      • If you have 20 people, 4 pallets / 20 lbs that have to go somewhere, a KC10 isn’t the cheapest option.

        • The USAF no longer flies the C-9A/B and the C-40A is a USN aircraft. The USAF does fly the C-40B/C aircraft but they are pax airplanes with no main deck cargo capability.

      • So AMC likes to carry a few people and pallets on a KC-135 while the Navy uses for this job a small 737 or even asking the Navy is out of question?
        – Passenger configuration: 121 passengers
        – Cargo configuration: 8 pallets of cargo
        – Combination configuration: 3 pallets of cargo, 70 passengers.
        Navy should put a hose&drogue unit on it.

        USAF faced out the C-9 (Chapter 2 aircraft according to ICAO air noise regulations) and replaced it with what? USAF got everything in its inventory except an aircraft to move pax and pallets in an economic way.

  6. the one and only thing the 135 has on top of the kc 10 is that the kc10 does not have combat mods because there are only 59 of them instead of a few hundred and the AF can not put them in harms way. The amount of fuel a 135 can offload is minimal to the 10, along with carrying cargo. i dont even think a 135 can drag fighters all the way across the ocean. all in all the 10 can carry a lot more gas and a lot more cargo then the 135 ever could along with passengers at the same time. not to mention a 99% ME rate in the AOR.

    • The KC-135 was fully capable of dragging fighters across the Atlantic Ocean and on many roués across the Pacific. We did so almost monthly with the high fuel burn KC-135A. The KC-135E and KC-135R were even more capable due to their reduced fuel burn rates compared to J-57 (JT-3C) equipped sisters.

  7. Topboom,

    I hate to break it to you, but you’re long since retired, and your information is LONG since out of date. The KC-10, even with far fewer airframes in the AOR, provides nearly (or more than depending on the time of year) half the gas in theater. We don’t do “mostly cargo”, nor “very little refueling”.

    Please stop embarrassing yourself with your hideously out-of-date information.

    Current KC-10 boom

    PS, No one gives a damn whether the -135 can do .92 mach. This isn’t the cold war, and your worthless book facts re: -135 performance hold no bearing in the real world of tanker employment. Please. Just. Stop.

    • Hey Kid,
      Respect your predecessors who served in more stressful times than you have where so-called “War” is concerned. We served during the days of MAD, and we know better than you do, especially those such as myself, who possesses a 50 year background in aviation knowledge and awareness- current holder of A&P since 1989.

      509th BW SAC 1977 Best Maint. Sq. 8 AF MSET Award- 509 OMS Pease AFB NH- LTC (Ret LTG) Stephen B Croker CO

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