Lockheed near announcing location for LMXT tanker final assembly line in US

By Scott Hamilton

Jan. 24, 2022, © Leeham News: Lockheed Martin (LMCO) is expected to announce as early as this month where it will assemble its LMXT aerial refueling tanker should it win the US Air Force’s KC-Y contract. Lockheed’s 2021 earnings call is tomorrow, Jan. 25, but it’s unclear if an announcement will be made on the call.

The top contenders appear to be the Airbus final assembly complex in Mobile (AL), or Lockheed’s own facilities in Marietta (GA). Others may be in the mix.

In an interview with LNA Thursday, Larry Gallogly, the director of the LMXT campaign, said an announcement will be made “toward the end of this month.”

LMCO will compete for the US Air Force’s KC-Y Bridge Tanker contract. The Request for Proposals is expected to be issued this year. Boeing will offer its KC-46A tanker. The KC-46A fulfills the KC-X contract won by Boeing in 2011.

Assembled in US by US workers

In the KC-X contract competition, the team of Northrop Grumman and EADS (the name of the Airbus parent at the time) won the contract. Boeing protested for procedural reasons. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) upheld the protest. The competition was re-run, this time without Northop, which withdrew. EADS bid anyway and this time, Boeing won.

In both competitions, EADS pledged to assemble the A330 tanker in Mobile (AL). Since losing in 2011, Airbus constructed an A320 final assembly line and, more recently, an A220 FAL.

Lockheed pledges to assemble and modify the LMXT in the USA.

“We have a transition plan that will move these operations from their current locations to the US,” Gallogly says. “We have built those transition plans to ensure that we can train all of our US workforce under the current production processes that are that are being utilized and then we can move those to the US and ensure that for the customer this airplane works right out of the box.”

Announcing the location

Where the tanker will be assembled if LMCO wins the KC-Y contract is of great interest to the Mobile area. With two Airbus FALs at the former Brookley Air Force Base in Mobile, which is being converted to the downtown commercial airport, adding a tanker FAL builds the growing aerospace cluster there. A new building may be required.

LMCO has empty space at its Marietta (GA) facility that could be used to house the FAL. But Gallogly said last week that Mobile isn’t necessarily out of contention.

“There will be some late-breaking news that I think will come out toward the end of this month that will give you a little more fidelity on where we will do things,” he said. “We’re in those final considerations, both where the physical facilities will be located, what makes the most sense, trying to keep it efficient for the US government, not having to recreate the wheel or build all these new buildings. We’re trying to take advantage of what’s already available in the United States and keep this aircraft as affordable as possible for the taxpayers.”

Workforce experience

The workforce is also a consideration.

“When you think about existing facilities, you should also think about trained workforce, to take advantage of a workforce that’s already trained to do some of the work,” he said. “I wouldn’t count Mobile out. I certainly wouldn’t count Marietta out. We do have some excess space there. We hope to have those formal announcements at the end of this month.”

LMCO will bring over tooling from the 330 line to produce the LMXT in the US. Airbus confirmed that the A330 passenger FAL will remain in Toulouse, France.

“You’ll have assembly lines in both locations,” Gallogly said. “What we’re committing to is we will have to duplicate tooling of the A330. We’ll have a full assembly line of manufacturing facilities set up in the United States as well as a conversion center to convert the A330 into its final military configuration of a tanker.”

Details about KC-X competition

Details about the KC-X competition are part of a series on LNA that began Dec. 6 and continues through February on Mondays.

The book Air Wars, The Global Combat Between Airbus and Boeing, also covers the KC-X competition. Air Wars is by LNA editor Scott Hamilton. Air Wars is available in paperback and eBook form at Amazon and in paperback at Barnes & Noble.


37 Comments on “Lockheed near announcing location for LMXT tanker final assembly line in US

  1. The production rate at the current A330 FAL isn’t more than 1-2 jets a month (IIRC). Wouldn’t it make more sense to just move all A330 production to the US?

    • Roughly there are 335 A330-900 orders with 65 delivered plus a few A330-800. There will likely be 140 LMXT KZ-Y orders. (PS shouldn’t it be the LMYT). So it would make sense to consolidate production. However European Workers and American workers both vote and both need work.

      This could be done but there might be political problems with that within the EU and its unions and simply the voters. One must remember that Airbus was formed to ensure Europe had an place aviation industry though it is a publicly listed company.

      I’m thinking we might end up with the Airbus LXMT being offered with an
      GE engine. (A recowled General Electric GEnx as the B747-8 on Air Force 1) and we might see civilian aircraft produced with that engine on the American line.

      I have a feeling the A350 Airbus vs Qatar paint degradation fiasco is going to turn into a 1 billion dollar argument and the A330 will be Airbuses only untainted widebody for a while. Even if Airbus is innocent the mud has stuck.

      Basically A 1960s UK White paper concluded that British aircraft were 20% more expensive than US due to small production runs. Cooperation with other European countries was advised since if UK, France and Germany all funded airliners they were bound to fail.

      However it can be done if it seems that the US operation is part of the Airbus/EADS family. Can we see a Lockheed Martin Airbus merger on the civilian side. Remember the Europeans do squabble over ‘work share’ but so long as its reasonably fair it seems to work.

      • Agreed as regards the potential A350 paint-related headache.
        With dark clouds also hanging over the 787 and 777X programs, the A330neo might yet see a sudden burst in interest 😉

        As regards moving the A330 FAL entirely to the US: in the present era of decoupling, such a move would be highly counter-intuitive.

      • ‘Work share’ doesnt exist any more as the Airbus has combined its once separate national businesses.

        The state share ownership also is so low as to not to be able to affect management decisions. Like US the say 11% share of French government ( maybe a bit more now because of Covid) under stock market rules , the ‘tail cant wag the dog’

        That was when they each had 22.5% [reduced later to half of that] and will ‘ dissolve a decade-old arrangement that gave the governments of France and Germany an effective veto over strategic management decisions.’

    • And the US developing “embargo funnies” to hamper select customer deliveries?

  2. as usual, the political engineering is the most important part of the success of any defense program.

    for long term success, it must impact as many congressional districts and states as possible.

    Historically, Lockheed does this better than any other company. the F-35, for instance, has parts or other suppliers in every single congressional congressional district (or did at one point, redistricting may affect that), whether or not those suppliers are technically or logistically the “best” choice.

    I fully expect this to be manufactured in a southern “right to work” state, but there will be suppliers from as many of the 435 congressional districts as possible.

  3. Most work on an A330 is done in the supply chain. For the LMXT most work is probably validation, integration and certification of LMXT specific systems. Marietta could be the most logical place for that.

    Agree GENX would make the most sense from an performance, sustainability & environmental standpoint, both for KC46 & LMXT.

      • Best solution but not limited to air transport.
        The FAL site and airport are on the shoreline.

      • The BXL may have too short legs. Unless it goes like EU > Iceland > Canada > Texas?

        • Georgia, not Texas. But the Dreamlifter makes a number of stops between Japan and South Carolina, so nothing to say the Beluga can’t do the same.

          • Transit via Gander should work for a 40+t payload. i.e. just not a pair of A350 wings.

            Tianjin (A320) is supplied via sea transport.
            the A330 center there is “self fly”.
            Same would be valid for outfitting in Marietta? Assembly to flyable frame in Mobile … airside transfer to Marietta.

        • BELUGA XL is huge:
          able to carry a pair of 350XWB wings.
          legs are not that tall but load is usually a lot lighter than the 53ton capacity
          Probably one stop will be required for flying from UK to Georgia.
          another option is to use the boat sailing from Saint Nazaire to Mobile carrying A320 components.
          Many options for Mobile to Georgia transportation.

    • Respectfully, the 747 program used oversize rail cars for its entire production run to move fuselage panels from Calif to the PNW. That makes it a lot easier to get fuselages from Savannah to Marietta. Its a simple timing exercise to run oversize freight with big airplane parts. The only fly in the ointment for oversize rail is tunnel clearance, but there are none of those to contend with. Wings are simple to move over conventional highways as Boeing has perfected.

    • They will use the Beluga accompanied and fueled by an A330MRTT in a direct flight. In order to be ensure the success of the flight, the coffee machine in the Beluga will get a second backup, however.

      • Announced today in TLS:

        Airbus’ iconic Beluga super transporters ready to serve global outsized-cargo demand

        Toulouse, 25 January 2022 – Airbus has launched a new air-cargo service using its unique BelugaST fleet to offer freight companies and other potential customers a solution to their outsized freight transportation needs.

        The new service – Airbus Beluga Transport – will provide commercially-contracted customers in a variety of sectors, including space, energy, military, aeronautic, maritime and humanitarian sectors, with a solution to their large cargo transport needs.

        The first mission took place at the end of 2021 with a delivery from Airbus Helicopters’ manufacturing site in Marignane, France, to Kobe in Japan for an undisclosed customer. Beluga #3 stopped to refuel at Warsaw (Poland), Novosibirsk (Russia) and Seoul (Korea).

        Phillippe Sabo, Head of ATI and Air Oversize Transport at Airbus, said: “The Beluga’s wider cross-section will open up new markets and new logistical possibilities for customers. In the case of loading helicopters – not having to dismantle them first – really is a plus. Similarly, the largest commercial aircraft engines can be accommodated in a fully-dressed configuration.”

        Based on the A300-600 design, the five-strong BelugaST fleet, which has until now been the backbone of Airbus’ inter-site transportation of large aircraft sections, are being replaced by six new-generation BelugaXLs to support Airbus’ ramp-up of its airliner production.

        The new Airbus Beluga Transport service can cater for a multitude of possible market applications since the planes possess the world’s largest interior cross-section of any transport aircraft, accommodating outsized cargo of up to 7.1m in width and 6.7m in height.

        In the near future, once Airbus has commissioned all six new BelugaXLs, the fully-released BelugaST fleet will be handed over to a newly-created, subsidiary airline with its own Air Operator Certificate (AOC) and staff. Philippe Sabo added: “The new airline will be flexible and agile to address the needs of external worldwide markets.”

        To maximise the BelugaST’s turnaround capability for its targeted international customer base, new loading techniques and equipment are being developed for the operation. These solutions include an automated On-Board Cargo Loader (OBCL) for missions where a loading/unloading platform is not available at the origin or destination airport.

  4. Me thinks we need to see the RFP, otherwise the ground is well covered.

    Granted the Alt Facts need to be addressed as they pop up

  5. Seems to make more sense to just fly the whole plane across the Atlantic,even more so for a split buy.Its mainly metal bashing work anyway and the US would be better off making sure a high percentage of high value and strategic components are produced in the US.
    Also,this would be quicker and save the USAF money maintaining KC135s.
    Would a fully automated boom make more sense for both aircraft?

    • First will not happen.

      Issue with the tankers (KC-135 included) is not the KC-135 maint, its the lack of tankers. KC-135R has been upgraded and I believe service to 2040 and maybe longer as they still need more tankers.

      Automated Boom: I have not seen any operational discussion on that and how useful it is. Maybe more for unmanned than manned.

      • Its clearly not about increasing tanker numbers at all.
        Thats why they are accepting deliveries of new tankers and retiring older ones alongside the whole fleet of ( looming) maintenance heavy KC-10.

        Often its not routine maintenance thats an issue but the expensive deep maintenance as planes approach milestones for these fleets which have low utilisation compared to airlines.

        Modern airlines are a dream to maintain compared to the 50s-70s era. The B-52 reengining will take advantage of new engines that will never come off the wing. Same goes with KC-46 engines, even though not the latest as far as fuel efficiency goes, will last a long time in service ( and could well be replaced entirely in 20 years)

  6. My guess is a flyable A330 will be produced in Mobil and the military stuff will be added at Marietta.

        • Boeings directors wont allow the execs to pitch the deal at minimal or zero profit like last time. ( I think the program accounting makes profits look better than they are and the down side makes losses seem bigger)
          LM should do a better job than Northrop with their bid and dont leave out future maintenance ‘system’ entirely.
          Plus LM has a sort of secret sauce to their bids , honed over decades, just as they ‘conned’ the Swiss into accepting the eye wateringly expensive to run F-35 was the ‘cheapest’.

          • An on the subject of the illustrious F35, yet another crash: we seem to be getting 1-2 of them per week at the moment.
            The US navy says that the “inflight mishap is under investigation”.

            “F-35 crashes while landing on USS Carl Vinson in South China Sea”


            Incidentally, the Swiss parliament is reviewing the F35 acquisition process:

            “A special Swiss Parliamentary committee will review the Federal Council of Switzerland’s selection of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II as the next fighter jet to fly with the colors of the Swiss Air Force.”
            “Since the announcement, lawmakers and media commentators have contested the decision, calling into question certain terms of the selection, and the resulting contract.



            “Boeing’s directors wont allow the execs to pitch the deal at minimal or zero profit like last time”

            Why not? They’re allowing that in the case of MAX sales.

  7. At some point the USAF will wake up and build a 777 based tanker. If Lockheed-Martin wants to use the A-330 as a proposed tanker platform, it must be built completely by LM in the United States and all profits minus a licensing fee remain in the US.

    • “If Lockheed-Martin wants to use the A-330 as a proposed tanker platform, it must be built completely by LM in the United States and all profits minus a licensing fee remain in the US.”

      Then you’ll surely have no problem if other countries demand similar conditions: any US military machines sold to country X “must be built completely in Country X and all profits minus a licensing fee remain in Country X”.
      Let’s see how palpable that is to the US defense industry 😉

      • The trick is with size of the license fees.

        In the past GM had transferred all IP rights away from Opel Germany and then demanded license fees for the German production output.
        High enough to force losses in the bookkeeping there.
        Then they stopped production due to “no profits” 🙂
        Looters from a scavenger culture.

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