Pontifications: Dueling refueling tankers

By Scott Hamiltn

By Scott Hamilton

Sept. 21, 2015, © Leeham Co.: This Friday, Sept. 25, is the date that at long last, Boeing and the US Air Force expect the first flight of the KC-46A that is equipped with the fueling system.

A “bare” KC-46A made its first flight last December. Then it spent the next six months or so on the ground. First flight of the second KC-46A, the one with the fueling system, has been delayed several times. All the program margin is gone and it’s going to be a challenge for Boeing to stay on schedule to deliver 18 combat-ready KC-46As to the USAF by 2017–two short years away. To try and stay on schedule, Boeing started production of the the airplane concurrent with the flight test aircraft, a risky proposition that could result in major rework or other difficulties if Murphy’s Law comes into play.

The KC-46A is the successor to the KC-767 International tanker program, which was an industrial disaster. Only eight airplanes were produced, four for Italy and four

Boeing KC-46A makes its first flight Sept. 25, 2015. Photo via Google images.

for Japan. It ran years late and hundreds of millions of dollars over budget. There were flutter and design issues. These problems became part of the risk assessment by the USAF in the KC-X competition evaluation between Boeing and Northrop Grumman/EADS–and one of the reasons why the Air Force selected the Northrop KC-330 offering (later named the KC-30).

Boeing successfully challenged the contract award and won the next round with what became known as the KC-46A. Boeing claimed it benefited from lessons learned from the KC-767 International program.

Airbus, which lost the second round when Boeing’s pricing was 10% less than that offered by Airbus on what was called a Technically Acceptable, Lowest Price (TALP) approach, harrumphed that Boeing would never be able to deliver the airplanes on time or on budget at that low price. So far, Airbus seems to be on track to be proven correct. The KC-46A is late and to date, Boeing has taken $1.3bn in pre-tax charges against the program.

Meanwhile, Airbus has been delivering the KC-330 MRTT (Multi-Role Tanker Transport) to customers. Until last week, it won every foreign competition. Boeing finally

Airbus KC-330 MRTT refueling an American-made F-16 fighter. Click on image to enlarge. Photo via Google images.

received its first non-US order for the KC-46A, from Japan, an award that was hardly surprising given that Japan was operating the KC-767 under the troubled International program.

At its opening of the A320 Final Assembly Line (FAL) in Mobile (AL) last week, several Airbus executives couldn’t help but tweak Boeing over its problems with the KC-46A, saying the KC-330 is already refueling a number of US-built fighters in forward theaters.

The connection between the KC-330 and the A320 FAL, of course, is because the entire KC-X competition was about capabilities, deliveries, and (among other things) the Airbus plan to assemble the tankers in Mobile. When Boeing won the re-run of the competition, Airbus punted and proceeded with Mobile with the A320 plant.

The refueling tankers are a critical element of air forces around the world. For the US, refueling tankers make it possible to extend air power well beyond the reach of operating ranges of fighters and bombers. China’s military policy includes isolating Guam, a US territory and military base, in the event of a conflict. The US would have to fall back to Australia and this is one of the reasons (of many) the USAF chose the KC-330 in the first round of the KC-X competition: the KC-330 has greater range and loitering time than the KC-46A.

On Friday-the day of the KC-46A’s first flight-Leeham News and Comment’s Bjorn Fehrm will give his perspective of the two tankers. As a former fighter pilot with the Swedish Air Force and an aeronautical engineer, his perspective should be particularly interesting reading.

116 Comments on “Pontifications: Dueling refueling tankers

    • ON FRIDAY!I am looking forward to it.I am not too sure that the kc30 would have been a bed roses.The EH101 shows the amazing ability for US foreign acquisition programs to run out of control.On the other hand the Airbus ec135 program seems remarkably smooth.

  1. I am not surprised as to the comments above; considering the author’s previous comments on the matter. Perhaps if it would have included – albeit briefly – why the USAF finally opted for the KC-46 we would have a better understanding and a fair balanced view behind such a change in direction. One thing comes to my mind on this matter, the countries which have opted for the KC-30 do not have large tanker fleets. The considerably greater number of USAF airborne tankers will enable them to efficiently address the issues of range and loitering time.

    • “it would have included – albeit briefly – why the USAF finally opted for the KC-46 we would have a better understanding and a fair balanced view ”

      I think “fair” and “balanced” do not have a place in this tanker selection. In the end Airbus winning was not an option for congress, the rest was execution.

      When the KC-46A was selected everyone knew what was ordered & assumptions about price, delivery schedules and superior performance were just that, assumptions for the occasion.

      In the the end the USAF will have a decent 767 tanker force, far more efficient and flexible then the KC135 they replace.

      The road towards that goal wasn’t about costs, efficiency, effectivity, capability. It had to be from here & that left 1 acceptable option.

    • Why the KC-46A was chosen was clearly and simply explained: “Airbus, which lost the second round when Boeing’s pricing was 10% less than that offered by Airbus on what was called a Technically Acceptable, Lowest Price (TALP) approach”.

      In this case the military said whichever bid meets our minimum spec and has the lowest price wins – period. It wasn’t a matter of “best value” (price/performance) – all you needed to do was meet the bare minimum requirements and have a lower price.

      Based on the airframe alone, Boeing had the edge since the 767 would be a lower cost aircraft than the 330 – albeit less capable.

      It’s a bit like having a bid spec that requires a car with four wheels, air conditioning, power steering and air conditioning that can seat four passengers. A Chevy priced 10% less than a Mercedes would win the bid even though many people believe that at only 10% more the Mercedes represents better value.

      • “In this case the military said whichever bid meets our minimum spec and has the lowest price wins – period. ”

        Indeed, but during selection, round 3. When the offerings were known, congress moved the goal posts. “the militairy” had been sidelined at that stage. Further discussion is useless however when the unacceptable is unacceptable.

        • I figured that it was an utter “Faux” competition when Northrup quit the Airbus Team because they said the program was rigged against Airbus and to go on would be hopeless. Then…when Airbus didn’t also drop out, I knew that Airbus was about to pull a very-dirty trick on Boeing – they were going to sucker Boeing into an impossible-to-fulfill low-ball bid. And they did it. However, with just days to go before the winner was announced, Airbus threatened to pull out of the bidding (I guess they figured they might actually win with the crazy low-ball bid they put in – and it scared them). Then, right on cue the Airforce accidently E-mails copies of Boeing’s and Airbus’ bids to the opposite parties. Upopn seeing Boeing’s insane bid – which was less than Airbus’ – Airbus decided to stay in the game and let Boeing “Win the Booby Prize.”

          As a result Boeing’d Low-ball Bid, Boeing got stuck with a stupid low-ball military contract that they will never make money on – NEVER! Meanwhile, Airbus just kicks back and keeps selling and delivering A330 Tankers ti the rest of the world….for a PROFIT.

          It makes me laugh.

          • “Northrup quit the Airbus Team because they said the program was rigged against Airbus and to go on would be hopeless.”

            It’s NORTHROP, not Northrup. If you are gonna make nonsense assertions (false, by the way), at least get the name of the company right.

            NORTHROP left because the rules for the competition would not artificially favor a larger aircraft, and they felt the fixed price requirement would not allow them to compete on price and make any money. In other words, since the competition won’t secretly give extra points (like the Air Force illegally did the first time) for size and would come down to actual cost, NORTHROP (there you go) decided that they had no chance to compete on price, so they bailed out.

          • There’s nothing so “nonsense” about the original statement. Northrop left because the rules of the competition artificially favoured the smaller aircraft. If you’re setting the price as the sole criterion to decide between a Honda Civic and a VW Golf stationwagon, you’ve pretty much handed the RFP to the bidders with the winner written out on it. Laughable to call it a competition after that. It was a matter of seeing how low your preferred bidder will go for you.

        • Keeje,

          Congress did not move the goal posts

          Also, why should the US allow Airbus to bid on our tanker when we don’t get to bid on the European ones?

          I am not saying Airbus would not win, there is something to be said for a certified aircraft that is in production (See S. Korea).

          • The bid specified an in service widebody airliner, not a total new design is why

          • “Also, why should the US allow Airbus to bid on our tanker when we don’t get to bid on the European ones? ”

            But that is the issue, the US did invite Airbus to bid. Some might even say to take the fall guy roll to make it look like a real competition (not me, by the way).
            Nobody expected the US to open the competition to bidders outside the US, but once the US made the offer, the door was open and Airbus walked in.

          • “Also, why should the US allow Airbus to bid on our tanker when we don’t get to bid on the European ones?”

            We are rehashing old stuff here.
            Airbus was included in the process in a token effort to not get “shaved” by Boeing. ( OCCAR fixed price procurement of the A400M is the competing solution for the Euroes. The future will show who fared worse .. 😉
            Nobody abroad would have batted an eye if the US had limited the tanker procurement to local offerings.
            But the US did go for a world scoped RFP. .. and then imho illegally wiggled out of that when the result didn’t fit the market for political pork.

          • Hmmm, you have never read the reason for rejection.

            Legally the AF could not give Airbus credit for more pax, more freight and more fuel. The AF for better or worse decided they needed a mid sized truck not a full sized tractor trailer.

            Giving credit where credit was not allowed was illegal.

            ergo a left Boeing a hole to exploit and they did.

            The AF got what they wanted in the end, lowest cost tanker.

    • “The considerably greater number of USAF airborne tankers will enable them to efficiently address the issues of range and loitering time.”

      Obviously having 10 frames mission ready from 100++ bought is much easier than having 10 from 10 frames available. But the jury is still out.

      SCNR.

    • Did you not read this section, @Jardim?

      Boeing successfully challenged the contract award and won the next round with what became known as the KC-46A. Boeing claimed it benefited from lessons learned from the KC-767 International program.
      Airbus, which lost the second round when Boeing’s pricing was 10% less than that offered by Airbus on what was called a Technically Acceptable, Lowest Price (TALP) approach

    • I would agree normally, but S. Korea went wit the A330 when in fact their needs virtually dictated the smaller tanker.

      Hard telling but lack of an actually certified aircraft, lack of delivery slot not to mention lack of faith in Boeing and some varying combination.

      • Slipped, should have been further up in the comments chain under Jordan’s remarks.

  2. Perhaps more like a Mercedes full size SUV versus a Ford medium size SUV. Both do the prescribed job; one is larger and more capable but built overseas and also requiring a bigger set of garages, but carries more and is more expensive…

    • “Both do the prescribed job; one is larger and more capable but built overseas…”

      I think you meant designed overseas, for the KC-45 would have been built in Mobile, Alabama.

        • Interesting that the foreign car manufacturers all seem to have set up “new shops” and carefully educated their staff for the jobs at hand ignoring the profound capabilities of union workers.
          The result appears to be good. In contrast to US_us cars
          they are unremarkable quality wise.

      • “I think you meant designed overseas, for the KC-45 would have been built in Mobile, Alabama.”

        for some definition of “built”..

        almost all the components (and therefore most of the $ value in materials and labor) would have been manufactured in Europe, then assembled into major substructures in Europe, then shipped to the US and snapped together in Mobile.

        • Airbus’ US content by value is said to be ~~~50% already.

          Beyond patriotics there is not much rational cause for excitement.

      • Normand:

        One is larger, it is not more capable.

        If you have one person, you don’t need a bus.

        The 767 is as capable per the specs as A330. Also cost less.

  3. Boeing corallary to Murphys law

    The probability of any outcome is the inverse of its desireability.

    As to the Italian and Japanese Tanker issue. Since the MDC gang ‘ knew’ much more re government contracts, they insisted that BA commercial simply deliver a green 767 at Everett to the Power point rangers in the military side. Said plane was to be flown to Wichita, partly disassembled and refitted with Military goodies. The rest of the story made Murphy an optomist.

    • .. they insisted that BA commercial simply deliver a green 767 at Everett to the Power point rangers in the military side. ..

      IMU that is the way Airbus does the MRTT conversions, isn’t it?

      • Re the 2001 767 tankere fiasco –

        1) I do not know how Airbus does it- nor do I care
        2) BA problem at that time ( 2001-2002) was multifold besides the criminal issues

        a) By delivering a standard 767 ( read commercial ) at Everett to the Military side, it avoided having to have a closed/no forn/ production line.
        Which made some sense until it was apparent that major structural work would have to be done in Wichita. ( a partial disassembly of significant structural features, etc.- adding armour, redo parts of wing structure, etc.
        b) re wiring of an assembeled/partially disassembled aircraft to mil specs is not trivial- as later proven a yea or so ago on the current tanker cuz the power point rangers didn’t know the diffference between mil specs and commercial re redundant systems, emp, etc.
        c) That also allowed military side to hide the costs- which allowed the games re lease to come into play.
        d) And that was just a portion of the 2001 cluster ***.
        e) proof of the above ? Italian and japanese tanker fubar…

  4. I don’t really have a dog in this fight as the PW power plant alone seems to make this a silly acquisition for the next 50 years of service. I do think, however, that some reference should probably be made to differing perspectives here rather than Ferpe’s somewhat-to-exceptionally pro-Airbus perspective.

    Certainly, on various sites folks who are “in the know” such as KC135topboom etc. thought the 767 platform much more desirable for various reasons than the larger A330 (or mooted 777). Myself, I have a tough time getting too worked up over it. It seems Boeing, in round 4 (or whatever it was), was determined not to lose, even if it meant losses for the long term (plus throw in the discounted Fedex frames). For some reason they screwed up a manifold/pump. Whatever, I am guessing the program manager in 2011-2013 didn’t know it was a big/potentially big issue.

    I also think it’s probably true that the various changes over a decade-plus to the KC-46A (vs KC-767 and baseline FX 767) were not well managed/anticipated. If BA had envisioned/planned to dump a billion bucks plus (of company funds) into the 767 after the sonic cruiser’s (and 764X) death I would bet a new engine and commonality would have been a higher priority, in hindsight, than a USAF tanker contract.

    I just wish the USAF would finally figure out how to move re-engining the B-52’s through the acquisition process.

    • I do have to ask if you actually think that the perspectives of those “in the know” might have a somewhat-to-exceptionally pro-Boeing tone to it in the way that you see Ferpe’s as being pro-Airbus.

      • nyx, I do expect that some are “pro Boeing.” I also firmly believe much of this tale, such as it is, has been hashed out and debated thoroughly over the past 10 years. I don’t think one side has a monopoly on the truth, whether it is John McCain, Boeing, leeham, or Airbus. I also think the Brazilians and Columbians operate some 767 based tankers, fyi (IAI conversions?). I also have no problem with Ferpe/Leeham as pro-Airbus opiners, I just think it should be so labeled just as we probably agree other online thinkers are “pro Boeing.”

        http://www.airliners.net/aviation-forums/military/read.main/126775/?threadid=126775&searchid=126934&s=KC135TopBoom#ID126934

        http://www.airliners.net/aviation-forums/military/read.main/169263/

          • Couldn’t agree more, those “over the toppers” certainly lack credibility.

          • he!
            There is no “loyal” in lobbyist. 10 a dime you employ them on demand.

        • @texl1649

          FYI I have given no opinion in this matter so far. That is for tomorrow.

          Bjorn

          • Bjorn:

            Will you comments be behind the pay wall or this side?

            It seems to me that if the KC135Rs work the way they seem to the 767 is the logical aircraft to replace that numerous but not heavily utilized assets (800 a year?)

            On the other hand the KC10 needs a replacement as well (or so I think, I have not seen the utilizing rate on it). Certainly dated and heavy maint and fuel use and with FedEx giving their ups as fast as they can the base is limited.

            A330 would seem to be a good candidate for that but issue of course is the US specs on setup for the whole aircraft (communications suite, protection etc ) that may make an off the shelf buy iffy (though also maybe less need in its strategic role?

    • ” For some reason they screwed up a manifold/pump. ”

      Is it a certain thing that this was the only problem causal for the hold up?
      On the 787 single problems were presented as scapegoat but it was rather obvious that teleporting away of any one problem would have had zero effect on all over delays.

      • Same with the A380.

        That CATIA story is awesome. Two digital systems with multi decimal accuracy and somehow because they were different systems the harness lengths were wrong.

        Yeah, right!!

      • Ahhhhh. All the same arguments, points and counterpoints from years ago. Makes one nostalgic.
        All that we are missing is kc135TopBoom.

        Did this take you by surprise Scott?

        • My impression was that Boeing wanted to avoid having to jump ( by way of externally forced delays : see, we couldn’t show of our super tanker due to some other entity having dropped the bucket ) to have the contract expansion in the box before it became obvious that this tanker also can’t jump.

          • It will work fine. Its just going to cost boo coo bucks for Boeing to get it going.

            A lot like the 787. If this is learning from your mistakes?

            Of course that has nothing to do with how Boeing management works and all due to workers (somehow)

  5. All the program margin is gone and it’s going to be a challenge for Boeing to stay on schedule to deliver 18 combat-ready KC-46As to the USAF by 2018–three short years away.

    Scott, deliveries of 18 Aircraft by August 2017 is not three years away – it’s two short years away

    The contract requires Boeing to deliver 18 operational aircraft by August 2017 and specifies that Boeing must correct any required deficiencies and bring development and production aircraft to the final configuration at no additional cost to the government.

    Source: (Page 3) http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/669530.pdf

    BTW, here’s an interesting insight into the RAAF’s experience with the KC-30: An Update on the Airbus Tanker: The Aussie Experience

    http://www.sldinfo.com/an-update-on-the-airbus-tanker-the-aussie-experience/

    In 2008, the USAF selected the Airbus A300MRTT tanker. It was a clear winner from the standpoint of what the USAF wanted from a tanker.

    But politics and the anomalies of the US acquisition process intruded and the next Administration picked a Boeing tanker, one which has yet to enter the USAF inventory.

    For the USAF leadership, the Airbus tanker was clearly better, with its size and its ability to hold fuel in its wings, the potential for using the space on the aircraft, inside and out was especially compelling, notably with the introduction of the F-22 and the coming of the F-35 and its data rich generating capabilities.

    The tanker could become part of the battlespace and work with fifth generation aircraft in a compelling manner.

    There was much comment generated by the GAO, the press, analysts and pundits on that selection and that competition.

    But the reality is the reality.

    It is not just about points of view.

    The A330 tanker has won every competition worldwide since the loss in the United States with the single exception of the recent announcement by Japan of adding the new Boeing tanker to their original order of a different variant of the 767 tanker.

    and

    In short, the KC-30A with the Aussies as the lead nation has already demonstrated that the new tanker is a key part of the transformation of 21st century operational capabilities.

    And operational performance of the aircraft in the hands of one of the most professional air force’s in the world is a a good reminder that the USAF leadership in 2008 had it right.

    • OV-099,

      That site you posted mentioned NOTHING about the KC30 being on the “Projects of Concern” list for the RAAF for, oh, I don’t know…5 YEARS. Wonder how they forgot that part….and they obvious, historical problems the KC-X contract history demonstrates:

      http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/show-daily/avalon/2015/02/25/australia-avalon-airshow-tanker-airbus-kc30-raaf-operating-capability/23988721/

      Or that it was BEHIND SCHEDULE…(same link)
      Or that it still had problems with Boom refueling 5 years after entry into service, and only this year got clearance to do that….

      Or the fact that the A330MRTT lost not one, but 2 booms:
      http://australianaviation.com.au/2012/09/boom-busts-again-a330-mrtt-loses-boom-over-spain/

      Or that it couldn’t refuel the UK’s fighters, although I could’ve sworn that was a requirement, so delays in operational acceptance until only recently:

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2125439/Fleet-13billion-refuelling-planes-built-RAF-dont-work-British-aircraft–compatible-American-jets.html

        • Yeah but that’s after the boom actually worked and delivered gas.

          In other words, the boom was doing its job, not just sitting on the tail not cleared to be utilized

          • All “drops” were during testflights. One in conjunction with fueling(dry/wet?) a Portuguese F16.

      • @Neutron73

        Nice try throwing FUD, but you don’t seem to grasp that RAAF was the lead customer on the KC30. Sure, it was a challenge for them to make the KC-30 operational, but as Air Vice Marshal McDonald is saying – the results are there for all to see.

        Question: Australia has been the lead nation on the KC-30A, how has this impacted on others who are looking to buy a tanker or are introducing the tanker?

        Air Vice Marshal McDonald: It was a challenge getting the KC-30A into service, but the results are there for all to see, particularly in the Middle East.

        The Singaporeans talked with us at length about the aircraft and we provided them with our experiences associated with the program and aircraft. I am aware that the success of the Australian program fed into their own decision as it did in South Korea.

        The thing that’s sometimes missed with being a lead customer on the KC30 means you must also forge a path for air to air refueling clearances.

        Without them it is just a transport aircraft and useless to the fight.

        Clearances are about enabling the tanker fleet to operate in a global context and thereby contributing meaningfully to coalition operations.

        We are well underway with clearances, which then other global users can simply draw upon.

        For example, Singapore is obviously watching us closely as we move into F-35 clearances the latter part of this year, because for Singapore when their tanker is delivered there will be a JSF clearance already taken care of.

        We are working very hard to get as many clearances for the KC30A as possible, as such we’re working towards at the C-17 in the second quarter of 2016.

        And then in the third, fourth quarter we’re looking at P8.

        With Singapore and South Korea operating the KC-30A as well, means that we can mass capabilities in an area.

        Operating in the Middle East also allows us to become more and more comfortable and flexible working with other countries using our platform.

        Talking about delays, isn’t noteworthy how Lazy B – which delivered 732 KC-135 Stratotankers for the US Air Force between 1957 and 1965, and the same company supposedly having decades of experience supporting USAF tankers from two legacy companies – managed to nearly FUBAR the KC767 for the Italian and Japanese air forces. For example, the first italian KC767 arrived nearly 6 years late.

        In Sept. 2008, ItAF Air Staff estimated the delivery of all the 4 aircraft by the end of year 2009. Today the picture is changed once again. In an interesting interview with Andrea Nativi of RID (Rivista Italiana Difesa) Gen. Tei said that the aircraft, that were presumed to be “force multipliers” became “illusions multipliers” and that the current roadmap estimates the delivery of the first two aircraft by 2009 and the delivery of the remaining two postponed to 2010. ItAF is extremely upset about the programme and Boeing offered the Aeronautica Militare the availability of an unspecified tanker asset for the US deployment scheduled for summer 2009.

        http://theaviationist.com/2009/04/29/boeing-kc-767a-delay/

        • re…” and the same company supposedly having decades of experience supporting USAF tankers from two legacy companies ..”

          The problem was that it ( Boeing ) was NOT the same company which delivered the KC135 and related series.

          Whil many of the by then ( 2000-2001-2002 ) old hands were still around, many had left. And the executive and board and management types were from MDC. BA then was a family- by 2000 it was NOT a family ( per Harry Stonecipher ). The aero group had changed big time, and was run by MDC types, as well as many bean counters. Bill Allen was spinning in his grave fast enough to light up Seattle. In 1995, BA gave old hands ( those over 55 ) a great deal on pensions, hoping to rid themselves o maybe a few hundred or even a thousand of the oldsters to give the yuoung-guns a chance to advance, and to cut costs. The deal worked even better than planned. 9000 plus jumped ship. Two years later, BA for the first time stopped the production line. And the rest is history.

    • Really, a 30 year old airframe with some passengers is transformational?

      Sorry, I don’t buy it.

      Airbus managed to pull it off and good for them, but transformational it ain’t

    • I read the link and found it not saying anything that would come to the conclusion at the end that does not apply to the 767.

      First if the A330 was produced to US specs and assembled here where would we be in the process?

      I highily respect the Autralizas, but it also has the apearnace of we got something like a lemon and it took us years to get it up to snuff.

      Getting it up to snuff on 5 airframes is a lot less of a problem than the 18 to 179 for the US KC tanker.

      Australia has had a series of issue with this sort of acquisition to the point the F18s are accepted as US standard not Australian changes, as is the C17 and the Abrahams tank.

      Their submarine acquisition was a debacle the NH90 continues to be on the problem program watch list.

      I continue to believe that the A330 did not bring to the table that the US listed in its requisition that the 767 does not and that the US operates differently than other Air Forces.

      Ergo the conclusion that the US missed the boat misses the boat.

      That does not mean the 767 tanker program is not very troubled, but it also does not mean that like the Wedgetail when it got through its issue, it will work very well.

  6. Leeham: “…this is one of the reasons (of many) the USAF chose the KC-330 in the first round of the KC-X competition: the KC-330 has greater range and loitering time than the KC-46A.”

    In the end there will have been no winner in this patriotic battle: 1. The Air Force lost enhanced capabilities. 2. Airbus lost an important contract to build an aircraft in United States (at the same place as the A320). 3. Boeing stands to loose a lot of money from this pyrrhic contract.

    • And NATO lost the benefits of having homogeneous, interchangeable equipment, equipment that can fuel all allied aircraft.

      All NATO allies, except the US, has chosen the KC-330, and of course that tanker and fuel both US and allied built fighters.

      • World Tanker Fleets (2014)

        USA….595
        France…14
        UK… 9
        Turkey… 7
        Spain… 7
        Germany… 4
        Canada… 2

        Why in the world should the United States worry about commonalty with such a trivial contribution to NATO’s tanker force?

      • compatibility problems tend to stem from incomplete or wrong interface definitions. quite often the incompatibilities of previous implementations matched in a more benign fashion or problems were fixed by deviating from the interface definition.
        Most often problems arising from building to a defined spec exposed previous mistakes made and the “new to spec” thing just exposes this. Not rare at all, actually.

      • Meg:

        I gather you do not understand that all tankers being made us the US derived standard fittings on the boom or the boom of the British derived standards on the drogue?

        Ammunition is common spec through NATO (well sort of) but the weapons that fire them are individual to each country.

        Europe has 4 Main Battle Tanks with the US having the 5th (and overall best though the British Challenger is close, Leopard reputed to be decent but never test in combat.

        US , Germany and France use a smooth bore MBT gun and the brits are still spinning shells. And so it goes on through fighters, ships etc.

        As long as US and Europe can use the same fueling it does not matter which aircraft is delivering it.

        Tankers are nothing more than standard pax planes converte4d to tankers, nothing very special about any of it other than the fueling apparatus.

    • That all is pretty much so what.

      this was a legal contract bid process. i.e. unlike the previous round where the Air Force illegally gave credit for capabilities that there was no credit to be given for, its mute, it was illegal to do then and same for the4 next one

      Air Force is not an individual, they had no choice, it was legally met the minimum specs which 767 did (for better or worse)

        • One has to wonder why you bother to post then, when proven wrong go with the old who cares?

          • Normally when someone puts a smiley at the end of a sentence it signifies an intention, successful or not, to be funny. In other words it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. At least that’s the way I understand the code. Personally I always perceive it as a friendly gesture and use it in that spirit. Even in the context of a disagreement.

          • That’s the problem with the so called emoto cons.

            Each attaches his own definition .

            I don’t use them.

            The reality was Boeing won on valid legal point(s) and it was extremely important to all concerned.

            To deny that is to change the entire situation into what is being called a political decision when it was a court decision.

    • No its not, the reason the AF gave them the contract was they gave credit where no credit was due and that was the grounds it was overturned on.

      If you delivered more fuel, more passengers, more cargo than spec you got no more credit than if you just met the spec.

    • The US did not ask for those so called enhanced capabilities, ergo it played out the way it did when they messed up and granted those.

  7. If you compare on a 1-to-1 basis, one may be cheaper than the other. But it’s debatable as to whether being 10% cheaper up front translates to 10% cheaper down the road when one has better capability than the other. Like for instance, if you keep having to send out X number more KC767s than MRTTs for the same mission, then the MRTTs are the cheaper bet. Also, in instances where a separate aircraft is required for moving troop and cargo that the MRTT can do by itself.

    • “But it’s debatable as to whether being 10% cheaper up front translates to 10% cheaper down the road when one has better capability than the other.”

      Exactly. The ability to move men and logistics is also an often over-looked factor when considering the value of a tanker-transport. I mean, going cheap on a tanker-transport is like going cheap on an aircraft carrier – nothing but bad canrsult. Hey…the F-22s and F-35s might be nice, shiny toys, but they are near-worthless in contested airspace without tanker support. Also, actors like China are busy as beavers right now developing the next generation of tanker killer – the Chengdu J-20.

      The J-20 is a crude Stealth Fighter – in fact, it’s probably not a stealth fighter at all: it’s too long, a bit under-powered, doesn’t even have provision for a gun and only carries four (4) missiles internally. But…it’s relatively cheap and will be bloody fast with excellent front-aspect stealth and a looong range – just perfect for splashing tankers. Afterwards, all those F-22s and F-35s that launched from Guam and Korea – and all those F-18s that launched from way out in the Pacific – will just fly around until they run out of gas and splash into the pacific. That is…unless we got lots of extra tankers with lots of range – and we’re gonna’ need them if we get into a bug-tussle with our buddies in China. Otherwise, maybe American pilots better start thinking about learning to speak Chinese.

      Nope. Cutting corners on tankers just doesn’t make sense.

      • ” The ability to move men and logistics is also an often over-looked factor when considering the value of a tanker-transport.”

        It’s not overlooked but because the US (unlike the rest of NATO) has invested heavily in having a large transport fleet so additional transport capability in a tanker isn’t a desperate need.

        “But…it’s relatively cheap and will be bloody fast with excellent front-aspect stealth and a looong range – just perfect for splashing tankers. ”

        Well in that case wouldn’t it make more sense to have more tankers than fewer? After all neither Boeing or Airbus tankers are particularly good at avoiding missiles.

        • A lot of the cargo doesn’t need an oversized hold to carry it. pallets loaded onto a wide body cargo deck would do fine for 90% of the cargo. And it makes a better air ambulance, as you dont need a truck sized cargo deck to carry wounded soldiers and their medical support

        • “Well in that case wouldn’t it make more sense to have more tankers than fewer? After all neither Boeing or Airbus tankers are particularly good at avoiding missiles.”

          Yep. If the US aims to project power against the likes of a China in the Western Pacific, then the US should having a lot of spare tankers on standby. Personally, in the next 10 years I think China is going to develop long-range weapons that will make a standard war-time tanker mission over the Pacific anywhere near China look less like an in-flight refueling, and more like a Kamikaze run. Then…what good are all of the cooool stealth planes?

          • Russian already has a so called AWACS killer.

            Its just going to get harder, more jamming needed, more tankers as you have to sit further back from the front etc.

            More tankers is more better

        • It may seem as if Boeing is counting on the KC-46 being rolled into the KC-Y. Despite what they, Richard Aboulafia and the “home team” might think/believe/hope or take for granted, I’d not be surprised if the Pentagon would decide to open up the KC-Y to competition, thanks partly due to Lazy B’s performance on the KC767 and the KC-46 – and partly due to the performance of the A330MRTT, which according to Air Vice Marshal McDonald of the RAAF; the results are there for all to see.

          “We do have a lot more work to do as we progress through the remaining ground and flight test phases, but we are on the right path,” Muilenburg said, according to a transcript of the second quarter earnings call. “We also remain confident in the long-term financial value of the tanker program for our company.”

          There is reason for his optimism. The Air Force is locked in for 179 tanker aircraft under its KC-X recapitalization program, and could decide to purchase further KC-46 models under its future KC-Y and KC-Z programs. Boeing sees a potential market of up to 400 aircraft, worth around $80 billion, Muilenburg added.

          However, the KC-46A has yet to win a competition outside the US, most recently losing a $1.33 billion competition in South Korea to the Airbus A330 MRRT design. And while Boeing is hopeful about a Japanese tanker requirement, Aboulafia believes the company would be best served to keep its focus on the US.

          “They should curb their enthusiasm for the international market, which is larger than it was but nothing like the size of the US market,” he said. Boeing “missed an opportunity to get in the international market. They lost it. But it looks like they can keep the US market, which is stronger.”

          http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/air-space/support/2015/07/25/boeing-running-low–margin–kc46/30617565/

      • “The J-20 is a crude Stealth Fighter.”

        Stealth is more interesting for an aggressor than for reactive defensive use and that is why the US goes for it.

        The J-20 seems to be a carrier killer delivery platform.
        Probably single purpose.
        Increase risk for US carrier groups operating in China’s “goldfish”pond.

    • Per documentation that happens rarely in the US system.

      To move people you have the Air Force cargo fleet and or the Civilian Reserve fleet as well as lessors.

      For right or wrong the AF has utilize the Reserve fleet far more than the minimum legal requirement.

      During the Libyan campaign the US provided tankers (probably form Spain).

      Europe lacked the tankers to do so. that’s the problem with mixing apples and organs, you can carry freight, you can re-fuel, you can’t do both and no one asks if you will please let us finish up what we were doing before.

    • That’s the point, a tanker carrying cargo can’t tanker.

      A tanker that is not tanking or available is useless.

      Other countries have that luxury that the US will be there if needed, the US does not, nice if someone else throws in but we have to count on our own assets for the most part (as well as support those who don’t have them which is pretty much the rest of the world)

    • Read the mission use. Vast majority of the time the KC135 brings back a lot of fuel.

      ergo, said fuel is not dispensed. You waste a lot of money carrying around fuel you don’t use.

      On the contrays, both the 767 and the A330 can only fuel so many aircr (one each on boom, two on drogues)

      If you have a mission package of 30 aircraft that need fueling and you have one A330 to do it, by the time the last one is fuel the first one needs fuel again.

      Ergo , the need to have multiple tankers in an area not one, and it scales up.

      So a lot of more than adequate range and plenty of fuel means lots of tankers are needed, not a few that carry far more fuel than is dispense.

      • Dude, stop bringing “operational facts” into this discussion!! What’s the matter with you? 😉

        Who cares if the operational data says that most of the time, tankers are bringing back a lot of gas? What difference does it make that I have to change a lot of bases and infrastructure to support a a larger aircraft? Don’t you know that this is all about how EADS/Airbus got robbed on the contract, which illegally awarded points for things that weren’t allowed to be awarded extra points, because, even though they had a 10% higher price than the competitor, it should have won anyway, if it wasn’t for those meddlers in Congress…..

        (full disclosure – I fully expected Airbus to win, because I thought Boeing had really got soft and big-headed during the disastrous tanker lease deal, Boeing thought they were going to get the “hometown call”, and Boeing basically assumed and expected to win. And I thought Airbus was going to eat their lunch and take their lunch money. Surprised when the deal went to Boeing, and then I read the GAO report and realized how jacked up and screwed up the original competition was)

        • “I fully expected Airbus to win, because I thought Boeing had really got soft and big-headed during the disastrous tanker lease deal… Surprised when the deal went to Boeing, and then I read the GAO report and realized how jacked up and screwed up the original competition was).”

          I dont think that there are too many people left who still believe that Round One was not rigged in favour of Airbus. Or of the KC-30 I should say. Because that is where the difference lies: Round One was a faked competition intended to favour… the favourite of the Air Force; that is, the KC-30 (an aircraft). For it offered better value for the USAF. Round Two was intended to favour… the favourite of the government: that is, Boeing (a company). For it offered better value for Congress.

          • Yo dudes/dudettes- seems to me that plane has left the Hangar already. The woulda, coulda, shoulda gang seems to be looking for a time warp transporter. AFIK the DOD has yet to issue such an RFP.

            And spooky Quantum transport is a while away

  8. At that stage the KC30 was a threat for C-17 follow up orders too.

    Who needs a tanker that can move 50 tonnes across the Atlantic unrefuelled when you pushing KC767s and C-17s.

    DoD planner / beancounters might get crazy ideas..

    • “At that stage the KC30 was a threat for C-17 follow up orders too.”

      To suggest that the KC-30 was a threat for the C-17 is pure Airbus fanboy fantasy. The missions are completely different, and for one thing the C-17 has volumetric capacity beyond the reach of the MRTT. The latter is not meant to carry tanks and helicopters. Following your logic the MRTT should also have threatened the A400M as well, but this was never the case. That being said, you do have a point in suggesting that the KC-3o would have carried more cargo around, and this will have to be compensated for, one way or another. Unless the Air Force did not need that extra capacity. And perhaps they didn’t, otherwise they would have written the specifications accordingly. But that would have forced Boeing to propose the “KC-777” instead, which would have been a bit overkilled in my opinion. Besides, it would have been uncompetitive in terms of price.

      • Norman, what percentage of C-17 mission do you think are for moving tanks /outsize loads? How much to non hardened runways?

        What do think the costs per tonne mile are between a KC330 and C-17 if you have to move 40 tonnes? Uncomparable.

        http://www.aviationspectator.com/files/images/C-17-Globemaster-III-013.preview.jpg

        The KC46B has also good cargo capability and range. Do you think it will complement the C-17 in the strategic Airlift role?

        https://leehamnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/kc46a-schematic.jpg

        • Keesje:

          If you don’t like the system that’s in place you are welcome to try to change it.

          Is it right? Probably not in the pure sense.

          Right or wrong, the US does not operate on your plan, it operates on its own.

          Back to the Mantra, you can carry cargo, you can re-fuel, you can’t do both at the same time.

          How many tanker bases does France, UK, Spain and Germany have around the world (UK probably has a couple, the other?

          No one operates a world wide logistics system like the US and it has done some phenomenal work getting things into place when needed.

          Something to think about, no one else can or does that.

          • “Back to the Mantra, you can carry cargo, you can re-fuel, you can’t do both at the same time.”

            not entirely true. on a typical “Fighter Drag” using KC-10s the USAF routinely carries the fighter’s maintainers, their equipment, some spares and other miscellaneous mission related cargo to the destination. makes for a very quick, compact package to bring fighter support to a forward location.

            this is of course followed up by many C-17/C-5 loads of gear and personnel as the mission builds.

          • That is correct. Fighter drag is very small percentage of the whole.

            Ergo the tankers and the need to be scattered world wide to support whatever is going wherever (not to mention Continental US, Ak, Hawaii and Guam where active training and exercises are taking place all the time that need tanker assets.

            Good news is the current KC135Rs have very few yearly hours and we can get through fine until the KC767 comes on line.

    • Good luck putting this:

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1147194/Pictured-The-flying-hospital-bringing-home-wounded-Afghan-heroes.html

      http://airmedical.net/2011/07/24/c-17-jets-converted-air-ambulances-transport-soldiers-home-treatment/

      into an A330MRTT.

      C-17 is not threatened by an A330MRTT. Nope. Different mission sets. C-17 can do things no A330MRTT can do. Period. I seem to remember Australia picking up two of the last C-17s before they were sold out…they didn’t buy another KC30 because it competes with the C-17 on cargo and the C-17 was “under threat”.

      http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/defence-to-buy-two-more-of-its-workhorse-c17-transport-planes-20150409-1mhsan.html

  9. “To try and stay on schedule, Boeing started production of the the airplane concurrent with the flight test aircraft, a risky proposition that could result in major rework or other difficulties if Murphy’s Law comes into play.”

    Hard to believe after the disastrous experience with the 787 that any Boeing executive would advocate the same approach with the tanker. The company’s executive culture appears to be seriously flawed. Hard to believe such light weights are in charge of a major institution.

  10. It all seems a bit childish. Of course the C17 can do things a Kc30 cannot, and a KC30 can do things a C17 can not. The “at the same time” thing, who even suggested it?

    Still there’s a huge overlap. And operating costs of a C17 transporting anything but a M1 are pretty extreme.

    The “because we did it so 30-50 years ago too” reason, don’t let your boss hear stuff like that 🙂 I guess the situation was maybe slightly different?

    • Leesje (grin):

      Please join the American military. At the end you get a US citizenship.

      In the meantime you can work your way to the top and see about replacing C17s with A330MRTs.

      In the meantime the US decided long ago that it makes zero sense to have to make decisions between airlift of cargo and having a tanker where you need it when you need it.

      When push comes to shove its the US logistics system that moves things in times of crisis,.

      Note that Australia made that decision and bought more C17s than A330s.

      And the US also invested in the Civilian Reserve fleet and uses it heavily.

      This has allowed the continued use of low use but critical positioned KC135s until replacement comes on line.

      I don’t know if anyone else has seen them but those are really good looking birds, well taken care of, new engines and a program to keep them flying.

      • A few of my thoughts re the ancient Kc-135s versus the newer super delux FBW aircraft. The use of basic cable controls, trim tabs, and relatively simple power assist has proven its worth time and again. Compare to the now defunct Space Shuttle, which required a plethora of computer assisted devices. In its last years, NASA was scavanging old computers etc to get computer parts no longer made. Now fast forward say 40 years and figure out how to find current computer parts necessary to ‘ keep em flying ‘ for the current generation of FBW aircraft. Of course a transistor radio is smaller and more efficient than the old vacumm tube units, and the sold state tuners are amazing. As long as they are an OPTION for convienence, fine, but what if you need an old style – out of production solidf state device to replace a critical flight component? As modern as it was when first flown, even now at 20 plus years, certain things to support the B-2 systems are no longer in production from what I’ve heard. And to replace them with a new whiz bang mean s rewriting bucu code and testing.

        In short IMHO there are worse things for long term use than old fashioned cable controls which work even with EMP issues. The 767 uses a reasonable mix of computer and cable controls with certain minimal cable backup. Example the “GIMLI GLIDER ” WAS A 767.

        • As much as I hate to burst that bubble, the now KC46 has a 787 type cockpit

          Yes it interfaced with the current 767 system but how resistant it is to EMP ? We are making missiles that EMP so the other side is going to follow. Spec’s probably call form hardening but…..

          • ONE of the reasons the tanker was delayed was due to then Power Point rangers simply assuming that the standard commercial wiring was adequate for the non military stuff. Things like wire spacing, triple redundant safety systems per MIL Spec were not done. It wasn’t until the first planes were assembled and wired that someone or the mil inspectors said hey- how come . . . .

            The result was a near total rewiring of the existing planes- wire looms, etc. Considering that even the Kc135 tankers built in the 60’s had EMP hardening almost from day one, its a good bet that the current versions are well protected ( at least for critical systems ) from EMP. And I dont know for sure, but I assume the commercial grade backups via control cables for minimum flight controls and ETOPS are still used.

        • Example the “GIMLI GLIDER ” WAS A 767.

          Air Transat Flight 236 is the complementary Airbus example.

      • IMHO dual use makes quite a lot of sense in relation to product lifetime.
        Tanker only use brings you superannuated frames that lag state of the art capabilities and performance while at the same time their cycles and flighthours are nearer to “just run in”. Stored to death comes to mind.
        Having them double in for freight and other secondary uses
        moves design lifespan and technological lifespan back together.

      • No, note a bunch of the non engine enhanced KC135 tankers are in active storage (i.e. read that political never to fly again)

    • Thanx, It’s amazing how ready people are to put aside common sense to support a predefined outcome.

      • I agree with MHalblaub when he writes that “anybody who thinks that KC-X was not a relief for C-17 should read “KC-X – The next mobility platform.” But I still disagree with you when you say “at that stage the KC30 was a threat for C-17 follow up orders too.”

        The USAF needs a number of C-17 to do the work that only a C-17 can do. That was my point when I said “the missions are completely different, and for one thing the C-17 has volumetric capacity beyond the reach of the MRTT. The latter is not meant to carry tanks and helicopters.”

        On the other hand even before I read the above document I already understood the USAF requirements and that’s why I said “you do have a point in suggesting that the KC-30 would have carried more cargo around, and this will have to be compensated for, one way or another [because of the selection of the 767 platform]. Unless the Air Force did not need that extra capacity. And perhaps they didn’t, otherwise they would have written the specifications accordingly.”

        That begs the following question: does the KC-46 properly answer the requirements delineated in the above document? My answer is no. For I do not believe the KC-46 will ever satisfy the requirements of the Air Force in terms of capacity and range. Yet, officially the KC-46 meets the minimum requirements. But that begs another question: do the official minimum requirements of Round 2 match the actual operational requirements of the Air Force? I don’t think they do, but I cannot demonstrate it. It’s a matter of personal opinion based on my understanding of American politics. But when I read the above mentioned document it appears to me that only the MRTT would properly fit the bill.

        • One thing you can glean out of the Australian report by OV99 was RAAF thinks the two are complementary

        • It’s not all black and white. I think the KC-X spec didn’t help the USAF order additional C-17’s. As the USAF says in the article the KC-X would relieve the expensive C-17 to do missions its build for.

          “does the KC-46 properly answer the requirements delineated in the above document”

          I think most can agree the MRTT would do better, still the KC-46 will do a good job. It can easily move 30 tonnes /people pallets 5000NM way more efficient than a C-17.

          E.g. 5000NM from Dover AFB to Turkey, unrefuelled : http://www.gcmap.com/map?P=&R=5000NM%40DCA&MS=wls&MR=1800&MX=720×360&PM=*

    • MHalblaub

      The issue is did the 767 not include the KCX specs?

      I believe it did, ergo it can carry cargo, pax and do fueling.

      there is also a disagreement inside the USAF as to the use of tankers to move pax and cargo.

      Ergo, the first rev of the tanker contract was intended to get the A330MRT.

      Others were not happy as it was not intended as an open ended max this out but to replace the KC135 fleet (not the first time empire building has occurred)

      Question was did that what the entire AF want?

      Also, if you use up your tanker air hours carry pax and cargo and save the C17s do you wind up with too few tankers in 20 years?

      We have a lock of KC135s with a low hours so its not a crisis (despite claims otherwise). The fleet is in good shape.

  11. All: Bjorn’s comments tomorrow (Friday, 9/25) will be in Bjorn’s Corner, freewall. I’ve read them, and he is bound to stir up even more comment and controversy.

    His column will post shortly after midnight Seattle time tonight.

    Hamilton

  12. So let me add a bit of personal observation.

    This summer a RAAF A330MRT sat on our ramp for 4 or 5 days doing nothing.

    I assume part of air exercise taking place.

    Of course it was not carrying cargo, pax or refueling while it sat there.

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