Look for more KC-46A tanker orders soon

Feb. 8, 2017, © Leeham Co.: Boeing last month received a $2.1bn order for 15 more KC-46A tankers from the US Air Force, bringing the total so far to 34.

Look for more orders in the coming months.

Boeing has Letters of Intent for 152 more with delivery dates beginning in 2018, according to the Ascend data base.

Extending the line

The aerial refueling tankers are based on the 767-200ER, which is no longer offered by Boeing in a passenger version.

Boeing expects 400 sales of the tanker over the life of the program. Using the current LOIs as a base, the USAF commitment extends to 2028. At the current production schedule planned, the 767 line could be active until 2042.

But the USAF isn’t the only customer for the 767.

FedEx Orders, Options

FedEx is also a major customer for the 767. FedEx has 70 767-300ERFs scheduled for delivery this year through 2022. Options begin in 2025 through 2030.

Boeing is increasing the production rate for the 767 line to 2.5/mo this year, from 2/mo last year. Current orders/options don’t appear to support this rate without more orders.

Although Boeing officially offers the 767-300ER in a passenger version, no order for this model has been received for years.

UPS—which breathed new life into the ailing 747-8 line with an order for 14 freighters—could be a possibility. It operates a large fleet of 767-300ERFs, all purchased new. At some point, it may conclude it needs more.

36 Comments on “Look for more KC-46A tanker orders soon

  1. The original tanker RFP was for 179 planes including the four development aircraft. Boeing currently holds orders for 4 (March 2011), 19 (August 2016) and 15 (January 2017).

    Given this was a multi-year procurement program, I’d be surprised if the USAF ordered more than they need to on a year-to-year basis. Given the delivery chart in the article, I’d expect to see them order the next batch of 15 in 2018.

    Why would they commit money in a fiscal year that they don’t need to?

    • I also thought that the total number of orders now is 38 instead of 34 like Scott says. Either way, why does the chart only show 10 current orders? None have been delivered yet.

  2. The old bird keeps chugging along after being written off as dead more than once.

  3. I can see the USAF look for an optimal fleet size in terms of economies of scale, maintenance, redundancy and than have a good look again if the requirements / situation have changed.

  4. A re-engined 767 may yet be an acceptable MoM solution. Boeing cannot handle major development expenses, and the rest of the 767 is fully paid-for (unlike the 787).

  5. I would guess that Boeing wants to hold some slots open for KC-46 international sales. Not that the international sales campaigns have been especially promising so far…

    • Some KC-46 were sold to Japan. As I remember 4 aircraft.
      Maybe Italy will order several tankers but I expect them to be converted aircraft and not new ones.
      Most Air Forces ordering the A330 have flag carrier also operating A330 (e.g. Qantas, Singapore, South Korea). RAAF is converting old Qantas A330 into tankers.
      With diminishing 767 operators I just can see FedEx Air Force as a future KC-46 operator.

      Next competition (KC-Y or KC-Z) to replace the big KC-10 tankers will be interesting. The MTOW of the A330 was increased by 12 t since the KC-X competition.

      • KC-Y will likely never happen, AMC head Gen. Carlton Everhart, has floated the idea of moving straight from the KC-46 program into the acquisition of a more technologically advanced KC-Z, and perhaps buying an updated KC-46 to fill the KC-Y slot. Currently KC-Z is envisioned as coming on board in 2035 leaving a 2028 to 2035 gap for more KC-46s.

        KC-Z has in the been viewed as a purpose built aircraft, perhaps with stealth characteristics and not a commercial derivative aircraft. Based on current Air Force thinking there will likely be not be a direct replacement for the KC-10. All that of course could change, but based on their latest statements don’t count on a 777/A-330 Neo or A-350 shootout.


        • With the incredible expensive F-35 the 179 KC-46 could be more than enough for a shrinking USAF fleet. The availability rate for the KC-46 will be much higher than for KC-135.

          Offload capabilities at 1,000 nm
          KC-46: 117,000 pounds
          KC-45: 153,000 pounds, 233 t MTOW (+25,000 lbs for 245 t MTOW)
          KC-10: 195,000 pounds

          The B-2 has a fuel capacity of 167,000 pounds.

          • The MRTT based tanker was a better tanker as the second round proved. But is was unacceptable for congress. It doesn’t make the KC-46 a bad aircraft. It’s efficienct 18 pallet- range capability are an enormous improvement and can e.g preserve expensive C17 /C5 operations.

          • Whether the A330 MRTT was better is a matter of opinion. However, if the A330 was unacceptable to Congress imagine how unacceptable an A330 MRTT would be to Donald Trump. The simple fact though is that there will be no A330 based MRTT in USAF service ever.

            Boeing’s 400 frame estimate is obviously based on capturing at least 200 orders beyond the current 179 KC-X + 4 Japanese aircraft orders. It might not be an unreasonable estimate given tight USAF budgets and Boeing’s evident belief that KC-Y will never happen. As pointed out it should not be expected that most of the orders if they materialize, would be exports and I doubt Boeing does. It’s pretty easy in this case to conclude Boeing believes they will sell at least 100+ improved KC-46s to the USAF.

          • Keesje:

            The A330MRT was not a better tanker, it was a different aircraft.

            A huge amount of data was and is available on the differences.

            If you want to fly cargo most of the time and tank a small amount, then its better.

            If you want to tank aircraft, then its not.

            US Statistics says that 2/3 of the fuel is brought back.

            Ergo that’s a waste.

            Per MHalblaub , the B2 fuel capacity is one thing, when it gets fuel is another.

            Numbers count as well. If you need to tank 10 aircraft, then 5 tankers with less fuel are needed, not one with all the fuel while fueling 1 or 2 while the rest fly around using up fuel that then need to be tanked again.

            If we base the requirement on size, then a 777 or a 747 tanker is better than an A330MRT>

            Of course that means I should be driving a tractor trailer truck.

  6. I have always wondered how long this engine would be in military service. At some point I would have guessed the USAF/PW would look at an upgraded engine but having reflected on the former’s long term rejection of re-engining the B-52 I guess it’s unlikely these 767’s will have a different fan hanging from them prior to about 2060. At that point it might be a hybrid/new wing/UDF of some sort.

    I think they officially killed off the 764, correct? Could the minor rate increase give capacity/flexibility in the supplier base for the 767Max with a new wing (and engine of course) as some have hinted elsewhere?

    • A 767MAX makes no sense at all. Fuselage is to small. Just seven abreast and no LD3 containers. The money for a new wing would be far better invested for a 787-3.

      The first KC-46 should be scrapped around 2060. KC-135 was just a tanker but the KC-46 is also a real cargo aircraft or to move troops. Utilization rate should therefore be much higher for KC-46 than KC-135.

      • I doubt it. USAF has C-17s, Modernized C5 and the Civilian Reserve fleet that is used much more than the minimum allotment.

        Tankers are only good if they are where you need them.

        The need for the US is all over the globe. If they are off someplace else hauling cargo, then obviously they can’t fuel.

        I can think of a dozen places that they are stationed and probably a lot more, low hours but when they need them, they need numbers.

        Some places they need numbers period. Rotate squadrons in and out and level out the impact on any given airframe (as well as some in maint all the time as well) .

        As we seem to need 400 or so……….

        • Its more cost effective to use a converted freighter type plane like the KC46 for pallet sized loads of all kinds than use an over sized body with the C-17. Even using the C-17 for medical evacuation was just because of its range, the KC46 being ideal and more cost effective as well. The oldest C-17s came down the line in the early 90s and are close to 20 years old, with the line now closed they need to make sure their life will last another 20 years

          • I think there is a wrong impressions on missions.

            The reason the C-17 works is its is moving in both direction. It might as well go back with something on board, be it troops or MedEvacs.

            Once a tanker is in Theatre, then it stays there to tank aircraft. It can hauls stuff out, but its a one way one shot deal.

            We have tankers station all over the US, Alaska, Spain (of the Far East Transit Traffci9) Middle East, Afghanistan , Guam, Japan, Australia etc etc.

            A sqaurdon here, a couple there and it adds up and tgehir purpose it to tank aircraft, not hual ffiehg

            If you are hauling freight you cannot tank.

            Corollary is you can’t tank if you are hauling freight.

            And you don’t know when you need a tanker. Once it gone someplace else hauling freight you don’t get it back for a while.

            What works for other countered without the world wide infrastructure and commitments does not work for the US and we operate differently.

            Considering how amazing successful the US Military is in managing world wide logistics and getting whets needed where, you have to respect they know what they are doing.

            Ain’t no one else doing it.

            If the US Military had been put in charge of the Katrina aftermath, the failing would have been few and far apart.

        • The need for tanker aircraft is at the begin of an aerial campaign. The build up of troops and equipment is before the first aerial attacks where tankers are needed. Just check out the second US war against Iraq.

          US Air Force generals were embarrassed how fast parcel delivery was sucking the life out of the C-17 fleet. The C-17 is for outsized cargo.

          The C-17 is also an incredible gas hog and burns nearly twice as much fuel as a 767. Why should the USAF use a C-17 and a tanker to move troops or equipment in case a tanker can do it alone even unrefueled?

          You can’t tell me it would be cheaper to use CRAF than to use own USAF assets. The KC-135 was not able to perform tasks like a KC-46. Ask RyanAir or any other civil airline. The cheapest way to operate an aircraft is to use it as often as possible.

          • Exactly…use an aircraft as often as possible. that’s why when the Tankers are not “Tanking”, then they should be hauling freight to give the pilots some “Flight Hours” and to pay for some of the costs. There’s no reason that Fedex can’t contract an AirForce Tanker to deliver parcels and the same tanker practice a tanking run on the same trip. But…that would save money. So, it’s off the table.

            And why some people on this board don’t think a Tanker and a Freighter can’t effectively be one-in-the-same just blows my mind. I remember the Iraq wars – and it seems like all the heavy “Freighting” and “People Moving” was moved at a time when a lot “Aerial Tanking” really wasn’t needed (i.e., before and after the air war).

        • @Transworld,

          “I can think of a dozen places that they are stationed and probably a lot more, low hours but when they need them, they need numbers. ”

          I doubt the world (or a regional) situation is on such an “Edge”, and hasn’t been for at least 50 years. Seriously, wars are generally difficult to start and usually take quite awhile to get momentum. I mean, even the German Blizkrieg on France took took a whole winter of waiting before it got going (Setptember 1939-Spring 1940). And so did the attacks on Iraq, etc… War takes a long time to get going, even with today’s faster transport.

          • What you are missing is that there are routine obligations.

            There is a constant need for tankers to support the Minot B-52s. Not because the B-52 are delivering bombs all the time, its because they have a routine training mission to maintain as well as the ME war.

            They are scattered all over the glob supply both routine training and war needs.

            Rushing a tanker all over the world screws up other needs as well as crew issues.

            We are not in a full time war mode.

            As for Express Packages being delivered by C-17, I need to see citation on that.

            The US has a Civil Reserve fleet and that is what those are tasked with and used for.

            They are not tapping the passenger portion of it, they tap the freighter portion.

            And I will note, they make much more use of it than is required by law for the minimum support.

  7. I think people should continue to wonder on not a NEO 767, but as updated a PIP engine as you can get with Winglets and maybe other low cost mods and how that fits in with the fuel prices going forward.

    • It probably needs an updated assembly line and more automated riveting for wings and fuselage sections more, this would lower the production cost.
      With Boeing writing off $2bill from the USAF order the management arent going to sink more money in unless it meets their current higher rates of return.

      • It just means they pay less taxes and can buy more stock back.

        The USAF has nothing to do with it in that regard and its what provides the base of support that allows them to offer them up cheap.

        FedEx got a hell of a deal.

        Any investment that benefits the whole program make them more money on the tankers by lowering costs and it allows them to offer it up as an alterative for sale to the civie markets. .

        Its never going to be a MOM, but if you don’t need an A330, its going to be a heck of a deal. Its as paid for and more than the A330 lines.

  8. India scrapped their MRTT tender for six aircraft back in July, for the second time. Perhaps the KC-46A has a shot this time because it is much farther along than it was in 2012.

    • Agreed.

      I think India is realizing that the US really does have it act together as far as support goes for all their systems.

    • That won’t tell us anything about the aircraft.
      This is just the madness with every Indian military program.
      See fighter jets, submarines, howitzer, tanks …

      And sorry, no major Indian Airline does operate a 767. The shops to repair a 767 are mostly located within the US while the A330 has far better repair services around India. Maybe India will get some converted A330 by Qantas…

      • The thing about the A330 being sold because its spread all over the world is getting a bit old.

        There are 1000 767s, many freighters and they do serve all overt the world.

        Boeing is building a very solid support structure
        in India. Its no big deal to add the 767 to it.

        It also has capabilities th A330MRT does not.

  9. I dunno about a PIP CF6. GE had some PR about that a few years back when Fedex signed an order for more, supposedly w/ GEnx tech but I don’t think it’s a big deal. Realistically, shoving a GEnX core with a smaller fan or the taller gear from the 764 would make more sense if they decided to use some of that big carbon wing plant capacity up in Washington. My guess is this comes concurrent with the 777-10X announcement.

    Not sure what airshow timeline that would match. No way SQ made that order without being pretty sure though.

    • Don’t forget that P&W has the tanker contract, so there is an alternative engine and while I don’t know how they compare, that means its worth investing in for upgrades.

      They are not going to do a NEO, but that does not mean that upgrades stop or are wasted.

      I am darned curious why P&W was chosen vs GE for the KC

      • PW underbid GE plain and simple. KC-46 was all about money in the bidding process and Boeing selected the cheapest option for all components in the system, even eliminating the winglets/400er style swept wingtips to save 30 cents a plane.

        PW may also have been advantageous from a “Congressional Engineering” aspect, i.e. manufactured in a congressional district that would have been left uncovered if they went with the CF6

  10. The best airplane for POtus mAY be a KC-46a (767) as it presumably has seating capability on the main deck (switching with cargo pallets) and a refuelling receptacle to stay aloft for longer and both military and civilian communication gear.

    (I am skeptical that Trump understands what the US government’s 747 executive transport is – not just a glitzed out executive airplane.

    I don’t see the 737 or 757 as a good airplane for POTUS.

    (BTW, FTR, Air Force Flight One is any USAF aircraft that the POTUS is on at the time.
    Marine Flight One is any helicopter the POTUS is on at the time.
    IOW the One term is not a particular aircraft, but a particular flight or series of flights.
    (Excepting special circumstances, such as how GWB got to an aircraft carrier, perhaps by a C-2 or S-3 or a fighter.)

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