Lockheed Martin expects competitive bidding for next tanker

By Byan Corliss 

Oct. 25, 2022 © Leeham News: A Lockheed Martin official said the company believes the U.S. Air Force will end up seeking competing bids for the next batch of aerial refueling tankers it will buy. 

When that happens, the company is confident the Air Force will pick its proposed LMXT tanker, based on the Airbus A330 airframe, for the role, said Larry Gallogly, who is Lockheed Martin’s director for the tanker campaign.

Back in 2007, the Air Force outlined a plan under which it would replace its then-existing tanker fleet in three rounds, KC-X, KC-Y and KC-Z.

KC-X, after many missteps, became the KC-46 program. The Air Force now is looking ahead to KC-Y, but with the recent steps forward with Boeing’s KC-46, some are arguing that a full-blown tanker competition isn’t necessary because USAF could just tack on additional orders to the 179 KC-46s it now plans to buy.

But during a briefing from Lockheed Martin’s offices in Alexandria, Va. today, Gallogly said he expects the Air Force will announce its criteria for the next round of tankers after the first of the year.  When it does, Gallogly continued, it’s likely that the Air Force will be seeking a more-capable tanker than the one it’s buying now.

“If we take all of the stakeholders at their word that the requirements are vastly different than they were 16 years ago, that takes you down a path where a competition is more likely than not,” Gallogly said.


  • Lockheed Martin teams with Airbus for proposal
  • LMXT differnt from Airbus KC-330
  • USAF approved KC-46 for all missions last month

LMXT: Assembled in Mobile, converted in Marietta

Lockheed Martin’s LMXT would be a variant of the Airbus KC-330 refueling tanker. The airframe would be assembled at Airbus’ Mobile plant, which would be expanded to accommodate the additional work generated by the program. The tanker conversion would take place at Lockheed-Martin’s plant in Marietta, Ga., in the building where the company assembled C-5 transports in the 1970s and ‘80s. 

The aerial refueling boom will be built at a not-yet-determined site in Arkansas, Gallogly said.

The LMXT would take advantage of the A330’s larger size and bigger fuel-carrying capacity, two factors that would be essential in any conflict in the Indo-Pacific region, Gallogly said. The LMXT could carry 56,000 additional pounds of fuel. 

“When we look at the Pacific and the tyranny of distance, that gas is going to be king,” he said.

The added range either provides the Air Force with a tanker that could be based farther back from the fighters or missiles of a potential adversary (ie. China) or one that could stay closer longer and refuel more war planes closer to the action. Gallogly even outlined a scenario in which LMXTs could be used to ferry fuel to KC-46s, allowing them to stay closer to the planes actually fighting.

“You can actually station this aircraft back further where you have the large fuel stores and still reach all of the areas of the Pacific,” he said.  

The KC-330 is in service with 13 U.S. allies and has a proven track record, he said. 

However, the LMXT that Lockheed Martin proposes for the USAF would be different.

LMXT is less transport, more tanker

As configured now, the KC-330 is a multi-role aircraft, capable of flying cargo missions when it’s not being used as a tanker. That’s made it attractive to smaller air forces that don’t have large fleets dedicated to each mission.

But the USAF does have a dedicated airlift fleet, which makes the KC-330’s cargo capacity redundant.

Gallogly said that Lockheed Martin has stripped out the top-deck cargo capacity of the KC-330. That does two things, he said: It reduces the weight of the plane, which means it burns less fuel getting to and from its refueling points, and it simplifies ground operations, because top-deck cargo requires specialized equipment to unload, while belly cargo needs a forklift. 

Hauling top-deck cargo simply “detracts from its No. 1 mission which is fuel offload at range,” Gallogly said.

Instead of cargo pallets, Lockheed Martin proposes a medevac bay, with room for eight stretchers (including two-intensive care stations), and a few dozen seats. The back of the deck would be essentially empty – again, to save on weight. 

The LMXT would have a suite for battle management officers, Gallogly explained. That would allow it to carry aloft computers and sensors that could process a wide range of tactical information to generate real-time battle plans. It also could allow officers within the tanker itself to operate a number of drones that could protect the tanker and any fighter planes while they’re refueling. 

“We’ve put a lot of effort into the kind of connectivity we’re going to bring to the airplane,” he said. 

Lockheed Martin also has certified daylight use of an automated refueling boom, which makes refueling more accurate and could relieve pressure on boom operators who could be asked to oversee refueling for long hours on end, Gallogly said. 

Air Force certifies KC-46 for all missions

Boeing’s KC-46 program has been plagued with glitches, most-recently with the cameras and sensors in the refueling boom

But last month, the Air Force certified the KC-46 to operate globally, nearly eight years after its first test flight.

“We are ready to use this aircraft globally in any fight, without hesitation,” General Mike Minihan, commander of the USAF’s Air Mobility Command, said as he made the announcement.

USAF ordered another 15 last month, and Israel’s air force ordered four more to go with its initial order of four.


53 Comments on “Lockheed Martin expects competitive bidding for next tanker

  1. Lockheed Martin should not be allowed to bid for the next USAF tanker contract taking account that France, Germany and Spain acquired Airbus A330MRTT without any RFP.
    No reason that US taxpayer money ends up in heavily subsidized and government supported French German Spanish Airbus.

    • Presumably you’re perfectly happy with European governments buying military aircraft from the US though?

      • -US defence spending is 3.5%-4% of GDP and US tax payers sometimes grow weary of this. European NATO nations got down to as low as 1.2%-1.4% defense spending and it seems they have deigned, with a war raging in Ukraine, not so subtle nuclear threats against the Baltic states, to increase it to the pre Russian invasion NATO minimum of 2%. It would be nice of Europe had an adequate defence spending to make a free market of military equipment worthwhile for the US as it would alleviate the United States of some of its military burdens. The 2% defence spending in Europe is still wedded to a delusional small 2%.
        -The United States must turn its attention to the Pacific (where I am, I’m not an American). It would be nice if Europe could help there but it can’t even decide what to do in Europe. Hence “Buy American” is a way of getting some of that 3.5% back into the US economy.
        -I am extremely grateful to the United States for keeping the sea lanes open, making free trade possible. This is what allows even small nation to get the food, energy, minerals they need even if they don’t have oil or enough land and it limits the tendency of big nations to invade small nations to form empires to obtain their resources. I am aware that Britain and France sometimes help in this area.
        -In this case the A330 based LMXT is likely the best aircraft by far when the need to offload large amounts of fuel near Taiwan is considered. There will be carrier based F-35B and F-35C, E-7 EWACS, P-8’s and C17, C130 “Rapid Draggon” capable of releasing Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile Extended Range (JASSM-ER) missiles, B2, Maybe B21.
        -Hopefully it won’t come to this but deterrent to be effective has to be somewhat fearsome.
        -Point is the LMXT might be the best aircraft for the job but it’s a job that needs to be done in the Pacific where Europe is not to be seen. For this reason I think the USAF will procure the aircraft but only IF it can be delivered fairly fast.

        • “Europe is not to be seen.”

          What part is Australia (your country) playing?

          Any Aussie ships sent to Ukraine?

          What was Australia doing when China was getting all chummy with the Solomon Islands?

          How about the arms industry in Australia: it’s number 20 in world rankings, whereas the EU is number 2.

          Before the recent increase in defense spending, the EU spent as much per annum on defense as China did, and 7 times as much as Russia.

          What about the horrific waste in the US armed forces? It’s easy to “spend” 4% GDP on defense when vast sums are being wasted on duds like the Littoral, Zumwalt, Gerald Ford, etc.

          Taiwan is only interesting because of its huge semiconductor industry. If “freedom” is the motivation, then why hasn’t there been an intervention in Myanmar?

    • Wow, just wow. Airbus was indeed government-supported decades ago. Not anymore. You need to check your information. Furthermore, how about looking into the need for a mission-ready plane rather than an old-fashioned “buy American” attitude? Finally, since it is Lockheed-backed, it means that most of the money will go to Lockheed. Just like any foreign-built airplane (e.g. the Pilatus trainer “Texan II”,) the originator gets a nice fee (heck, they designed it,) but all the bells and whistles, to keep it simple, get quite a share.

    • You are such a hypocrite. Using what you said, then the Air force should not buy the AV8 as it is based on the Harrier which is British designed and built initially In addition, the Air Force should not buy the F35 as it is not totally American either and European countries should not buy the F35 fighter as it is assembled in the States. Your statement does nothing beneficial but cause another trade war as though we do not have enough of them already.

      • “… the F35 fighter as it is assembled in the States.“

        That’s not quite right.

        The F-35 is also assembled in Italy and the Swiss insisted on “Italian” F-35. Whereas the Germans ordered the F-35 entirely without competition or specifications for final assembly. Just as the Germans and French ordered the C-130 together without competition.

    • The KC-46 wasnt in development let alone production when most of those countries bought the A330MRRT.
      The launch customer Australia placed its order in early 2000s
      Anyway Lockheed and Airbus have ‘americanised’ the production enough to met US requirements

      if you think the KC-46 airframe is all US made , those factories in Japan have news for you.

        • Boeing got $71,398,372,534 in Federal “loans, loan guarantees and bailout assistance”.

          • @ DoU
            The link that I posted goes back to 2012, with some data going back as far as 1994.

            Once again, your reading skills have let you down.

    • Because?
      The “imminent” red invasion?
      You think that big, lumbering, non-stealth tankers will play a significant role in such a scenario…against adversaries with long-range (hypersonic) air-target missiles?

      • BA badly needs Uncle Sam’s helping hand, if only it can execute *properly* to stop bleeding *much-needed* cash and stop losing money. BCA has holes in its product lineup, future strategy in disarray (MOM talked for over a decade and still a blank paper without an answer). That’s why it pivots to big daddy and hopes to win a handful contracts without cutthroat bidding. They moved their HQ to be close to the centre of power/money, continuing their path to become the new McDoug as top executives take their multi-million golden parachutes

  2. I’m curious if the recent track record of Boeing to get products out according to plan is part of the criteria. Logically it somehow should be a consideration, as receiving the plane according to the requested time frame should be an important factor.

    Although I don’t know if LM’s track record is better, as I have not followed any of their latest projects.

    • Indeed: the KC-46A still isn’t up to spec — and it won’t be for years.

      • Bryce.
        It depends who you talk to.
        The USAF released the KC-46 for all missions last month.

        • Just because it’s released doesn’t mean it’s up to spec: if you don’t have shoes, you’ll just have to walk around in your socks.

          The RVS won’t be ready for another 4 years.

          • Bryce. RVS1 is done and flying. Occasionally it touches airplanes, that also happens with 135s and 10s with hand flown booms. RVS2, is an upgrade to the original spec… So like I say, it depends on who you talk to, and the USAFs word on better than either of ours……. They said they are flying it on 100% of their missions so excuse me if I believe them…….

          • @ Pnwgeek
            I have absolutely no problem if you believe them: after all, they said the following just last month:

            “However, AMC clarified later the KC-46 still cannot refuel the A-10 Warthog due to a problem with the stiffness of its refueling boom and won’t be able to until the issue is fixed. The Air Force in 2019 awarded Boeing a contract worth up to $55.5 million to redesign the boom; that effort is still in the works.

            “But more work remains, Minihan said, and AMC is now going to concentrate on putting into place the necessary fixes for the Pegasus. Until then, he said, there are still some limitations and workarounds crews must take into account.

            “For example, the original vision system’s picture can be distorted or difficult to see under certain lighting conditions or angles. This can sometimes put the tanker in danger of scraping the receiving aircraft with the boom.

            “And there are still some challenges that crews are having to work around, Minihan said, such as the ongoing vision problems with the original RVS. Minihan said that if the Pegasus’ crew is having trouble seeing through the RVS, for example, the air crew will position the plane differently so the angles or lighting conditions aren’t as problematic. He said the upgraded version of RVS, dubbed RVS 2.0, will fix this problem.”

            So, the shoes have holes — let’s hope it doesn’t rain 😏


  3. This is a battle between lobbyists of 2 critical aerospace defense primes. Both need help; one has more self-inflicted wounds. How many rounds this time? A first round KO?

  4. Wasn’t there a (concocted) “issue” with ramp space — which made the LMXT (allegedly) unpalatably large for the USAF?
    Presumably that “issue” hasn’t evaporated in the past few months?
    Or have some asphalting machines been discovered in a forgotten parking lot somewhere?

  5. Given the need to replace the KC-10 & longer distances in any Pacific ops, I don’t think the KC-46A will be adequate. Next process needs to emphasize capacity. As LM are stripping out the A330MRTT to produce a pure (or closer to pure) tanker it would provide a much needed capacity boost for USAF. If USAF take a Boeing offer it needs to be based on the 777.

  6. Boeing had to modify the 767-2C to comply with all USAF spec’s for wartime use. Most likely will Lockheed go through the same hassle to get the LMXT in compliance. The Lockheed management should be more aware of the task than the Boeing management were back then as Boeing already had the KC-767 in house.

    • Claes.
      The 767-2c is not a tanker. It is a feedstock aircraft that is FAA certified. The 2c lacks the bulk of the ITAR parts that are installed in the post production process in Everett. The LMXT will probably follow the same process BUT there will most likly be significant ITAR issues caused by the crossing of european design databases and the requirement of a 100% US persons ŕequirement.

      Theres also another potential elephant in the room. The changes to the derivative aircraft major change rules are unclear and this may force the LMXT to be certified on its own TCDS, with a very long and involved certification effort

      • The FAA rules are deliberately tougher for passenger aircraft , not freighters and military derivatives of them.
        I seem to remember the FAA certification ( the USAF has its own rules and certifiers) is mostly so that these planes can be maintained through the existing FAA governed maintenance and parts network, thus saving the USAF big money

        This story suggests the A330MRRT is already EASA certified – which uses much the same rules as FAA and they have areas of mutual recognition

        not https so I avoided linking completely

      • The 767-2C structurally and with a major part of the installation is modified to meet USAF spec’s. Then comes the additional mission equipment. I don’t know if any of that need FAA cert (the flying refueling boom from Cobham needed FAA cert but might be included in the -2C cert?). When Airbus designed the A330MRTT we don’t know how much of the USAF tanker spec’s were included and what need to be included in the LMXT. Still there is logic to a stealth tanker looking way different from a commercial airliner to avoid mix-up in a warlike environment and allow flights much closer to the action.

  7. Still wish/hoped AB would use the 330-neo frame as it’s base platform for all future 330 derivatives – it’s gonna happen so get on with it.

    Perhaps the KC-Z package. Ho-hum.

  8. Using the A330 for the next tanker would neither suit AB nor BA. Air bus would need to add scarce engineering resources to a program barely creating revenue and profit while handcuffing AB with lots of export restrictions creating a competitor to their on product. On the other hand doomed BA desperately needs money to get their civil portfolio out of the cul-de-sac.

    • I would imagine that LM will be doing most of the engineering work. Airbus will just provide the basic airframe.

      Any LMXT sales would still require Airbus to build an A330 for it.

        • Yet we still see Airbus involved. Maybe they know something you don’t?

          MRTT or LMXT, Airbus still gets to sell more A330.

        • And yet they are bidding. Even if Airbus only breaks even it is still a plus for a few reasons:
          * It denies Boeing revenue it could use to design and build it’s next commercial airliner.
          * More Airbus manufacturing in the US is a shield against protections tendencies.
          * Larger Mobile plant will create a larger talent pool and greater flexibility staffing all the lines.
          * The A330 and A33neo have 95% commonality in airframe spare parts by part number so those parts will be build in greater number helping with costs.
          * Validation of the A330 as a tanker will help sales to other airforces.
          * We don’t know where Airbus is in terms of need for engineering staff. Could be they have more than they need right now and this program will be a bridge that keeps talent in the company until the next big commercial program.

          • You normally use all your suitable engineers for cost and weight reduction work in addition to ease of manufacture while increasing reliability and slightly increase MTOW. The A330 is a good example of that process over the years.

  9. Tanker shmanker. One might care to think about the situation that The World is in where the use of nuclear weapons is mentioned every other night on the evening news.

    It’s getting near the point where I am going to buy a brand new Corvette with a six year loan, and not worry about the payments…

  10. “A Lockheed Martin official said the company believes the U.S. Air Force will end up seeking competing bids for the next batch of aerial refueling tankers it will buy” ….. and this makes perfect sense. Say that LM / Airbus win round 2, then you add the complexity and massive bureaucracy around the integration of a 2nd tanker airframe into the USAF fleet. Just imagine how much that would cost us as taxpayers!

    Back in the day, when the KC-10 was brought in beside the KC-135, the cost for a 2nd fleet was much lower. Now, it would be in the billions!!

    Do we really need to waste taxpayer money with this nonsense? We have the KC-46 now. Let’s actually order 100-200 of the thing, so that we can start driving some price reductions!!

    • The ‘single type’ theory has never had much sway. As a major fault in one type means that whole fleet is grounded.
      There is likely to be more KC-46 bought but depending on the requirements the higher end LMXT should be bought in around 100 plus numbers

      These types of civil derived planes have contractor maintenance for airframe and engines anyway and the booms and pods are made by the same manufacturer. Usual basing process is to put one refueler type at each main base and not mix them up.

  11. The question is not what Lockheed / Airbus will do. That`s clear. A330MRTT from Mobile.

    Rather it`s what Boeing will do. Offer the stone age B762 as a basis again and say: Buy more KC46? Now that they already have it….

    Or will Boeing offer a tanker based on B777, B777x or even B787?
    A B777 tanker would be ideal to replace aging KC10 Extender, and as Boeing is developing a B778F why not use that as a development base for a larger tanker?

    The intresting part is not what Airbus will do, the A330MRTT is well known.
    Boeing though might move away from the KC46.

      • They get the money for the design work from the USAF. “Absolutely no money down kind of deal”. So winning the contract is free.
        Once the contract is signed, detail design engineering and testing starts and hard tooling is required the money starts flowing and you better know and track your costs and have a skilled project engineer guiding the design work and avoid requirement creep. Those does not grow on tree’s in Washington state..

    • I seem to remember the USAF was looking for an ‘in production’ aircraft for this new program.

      Unless that requirement has changed, all those paper projects can’t be considered.

      For Boeing it’s KC46 or nothing

  12. I’m a retired banker. Looking back over the past ten years, it’s pretty clear dealing with the USAF is financially TOXIC. ( Look at the COLOSSAL losses and cost overruns BA has sustained on this stupid tanker program, and its/the Swedes’ new jet trainer a/c!) If I were BA, I’d take a “hard line”—a “real” 15% minimum return over actual costs in ALL AF bids going forward. (“Take it, or leave it, AF!”) And, to be quite frank, BA really needs to give Lockmart and AB “a turn in the barrel”! (It’s the “poisoned apple” theory: “Here, have an apple, my sweet!” LOL) BA then needs to use its lawyers to make sure to hold them to the same AF standards that BA has had to meet historically—over the last 10 years. By the way, exactly how EMP-hardened will these LM/AB tankers be? (For example, can they take a 1 Megaton, air burst blast at 100 miles distance? How about 50 miles?) So, BA, follow this course, and, making sure to “hold their feet to the fire” (False Claims Act, anyone?), watch’em “crash and burn”!

    • Yes, it’s very important to spend vast sums of money on EMP-hardening of a big, slow tanker — after all, nuclear airbursts are such a common occurrence 😉
      Of course, if the nuclear airburst in question is above Guam, then the EMP hardening won’t have served much purpose, because the tanker will simply have nowhere to land and will have to ditch in the Pacific, won’t it?

      Next up: what effective defense does any tanker have against hypersonic missiles? Unlike megaton nukes, hypersonic missiles have actually been used in warfare (very recently in Ukraine, in fact).

      Wonderful prioritization.

      “As one Pentagon official explained, “When the Chinese can deploy [a] tactical or regional hypersonic system, they hold at risk our carrier battle groups. They hold our entire surface fleet at risk. They hold at risk our forward-deployed forces and land-based forces.” Hypersonic weapons could paralyze or disintegrate U.S. military operations in the critical first moments of battle.”


      • What TOTALLY matters is what the AF puts in the specs. I’m expecting major EMP requirements in these upcoming specs, irregardless of what you think is important. (You can almost COUNT on the AF to “over-spec”, with EMP hardening, and numerous other requirements, irrespective of outsider assessment of their value.) And, BTW, NATO (U.S.) needs to keep “pushing” Russia. Yep, keep pushing them, and we’ll likely see what EMP effect is all about! LOL

        • An OEM is perfectly entitled to give the AF a middle finger and say “do it yourself”. Maybe that should happen more often. Not doing it has certainly gotten BA into a financial pit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *