Lockheed bows out, Airbus plows ahead in USAF tanker procurement; Boeing favored

By Scott Hamilton

Oct. 24, 2023, © Leeham News: Lockheed Martin Co. (LMCO) threw in the towel on Oct. 23, announcing it will not submit information to the US Air Force for the KC-Y aerial refueling tanker procurement.

Lockheed Martin drops out of the KC-Y US Air Force tanker procurement for an aerial refueling tanker. Airbus, its partner, will proceed alone. Credit: Lockheed Martin.

But its partner, Airbus, quickly said it will respond to the USAF’s Request for Information (RFI).

“Airbus remains committed to providing the U.S. Air Force and our warfighters with the most modern and capable tanker on the market and will formally respond to the United States Air Force KC-135 recapitalization RFI. The A330 U.S.-MRTT is a reliable choice for the U.S. Air Force: one that will deliver affordability, proven performance, and unmatched capabilities.”

Lockheed’s withdrawal

Lockheed teamed with Airbus and announced in 2021 that the former would be the lead in submitting a proposal based on the latter’s A330 MRTT (Multi-Role Tanker Transport). LMCO later selected GE Aerospace as the engine provider.

But yesterday, LMCO said it was withdrawing.

“Lockheed Martin has decided not to respond to the U.S. Air Force’s KC-135 fleet recapitalization Request for Information (RFI),” a spokesperson said in a statement to the media. “We are transitioning Lockheed Martin’s LMXT team and resources to new opportunities and priority programs within Lockheed Martin, including development of aerial refueling solutions in support of the U.S. Air Force’s Next-Generation Air-Refueling System (NGAS) initiative. We remain committed to the accelerated delivery of advanced capabilities that strengthen the U.S. Air Force’s aerial refueling missions.”

A combination of a few factors in the RFI shaped the decision, including additional development requirements and uncertain quantities, as well as the acceleration of the Next Generation refueling tanker program, said a person close to the situation.

Initially, the USAF indicated up to 160 KC-Y tankers, either the Boeing KC-46A or the MRTT, or both, could be procured. This was later reduced to 75 and Pentagon officials said they may prefer to issue only a follow-on order to Boeing for the KC-46A. The publication Breaking Defense wrote that with only 75 tankers, Lockheed had trouble making a business case. An order for 110 was needed, to pencil out, the publication reported, citing an LMCO official.

Boeing has written off about $7bn on its initial contracts for the KC-46A. The program has been plagued with delays, cost overruns, equipment that doesn’t work, and quality control issues.

Airbus forges ahead

Airbus’ decision to submit a response to the RFI is déjà vu all over again. In the late 2000 decade, Airbus teamed with Northrop Grumman to compete against Boeing for the KC-X tanker procurement. This pitted the MRTT against what would become the KC-46A. The Northrop team won, but the contract award was overturned due to Air Force procedural improprieties.

Northrop declined to participate in the rematch. Airbus went ahead, knowing it was unlikely to win but seeing benefits anyway. (This is detailed in the book, Air Wars, The Global Combat Between Airbus and Boeing.)

Airbus then, and now, planned to build a final assembly plant at its aerospace complex in Mobile (AL) to assemble the tanker. In the JV with LMCO, the planes would then be flown to Marietta (GA), Lockheed’s prime defense facility, for militarization.

The LMCO withdrawal raises the question of who will complete the militarization of the MRTT should Airbus prevail. Airbus had nothing to add, in response to LNA’s inquiry. LMCO said it will weigh future work on a case-by-case basis.

Observers expect Boeing to win either a sole-source, follow-on contract, or to prevail in a competitive bidding.

95 Comments on “Lockheed bows out, Airbus plows ahead in USAF tanker procurement; Boeing favored

      • Déjà vu all over again….
        AB bids to squeeze B’s pricing stance on this second tranche.
        B wins the contest with a very poor bargain / margin prospect.
        Scott writes volume two of Air Wars…

        • You’d think that Boeing would get the message at some point. If it’s far too easy for Airbus to put in a low, low bid that they can still make a margin on (as seems to be the case) and Boeing have to sell their shirt to match it, it sounds like business not worth pursuing.

          Sure, it’s a Glorious Win continuing to supply the USAF with tankers, but if they’re losing money on the deal, why bother with the deal?

          Instead, they should look to their product catalogue and work out what they have to do to it to have a competitive offering.

          With this tanker contract, Boeing has to focus on building the Frankenstein 767 tanker, whereas it really should be focused on developing a proper 767 replacement. Or a proper 757 replacement. Or even a proper 737 replacement. Or, anything.

          Still, it’ll be entertaining to see how it goes. Air Wars Part 2 would be good reading, no doubt.

          • ‘Sure, it’s a Glorious Win continuing to supply the USAF with tankers, but if they’re losing money on the deal, why bother with the deal?’

            2 things:

            1) Said announcement will drive up share price

            2) Free cash flow

          • This is not what you guys are assuming.

            There are provisions in US defense contracting that current contracts can be extended. So as was noted, the USAF can extend the KC-46A contract (quoted are two different avenues)

            I don’t know if Boeing can counter with some escalating clauses but that is the gist of it. If the USAF chooses not to make it into a competition, then they work with Boeing and Airbus has no bid.

            One of the best articles I read on KC-46A vs the A330MRT was a KC-46A crew-woman who a tour (not sure on flying) but a close look at the A330MRT.

            Her comments were that they were equall. KC-46A had stuff they liked better (deck cargo) and the A330MRT had features that they liked.

            Most telling was on the vision issue, she said there was always something be it turbulence , weather or sun angles that caused problems and it was adjusting to the situation to do the job no matter what aircraft you were flying.

            That is the user end and its not great grist for this is far better etc, just the reality that nothing is perfect and can it do the job needed, which both can and do.

          • Frank P:

            Boeing will get revenue from the KC-46A support and mods for decades to come.

            Long term the program is probably going to return revenue.

            Most of the tanker needs do not include being stealthy, so there is a fleet requirement of close to 500 regular tankers.

            That is based on the USAF saying they don’t have enough tankers.

          • @Trans

            ‘Long term the program is probably going to return revenue.’

            If you say so

          • Frank P:

            I hope you noted the word p “probably”.

            Regardless it will be revenue into Boeing and that is better than a loss, even if it does not return all the losses.

  1. Does Airbus get reimbursed for the RFQ work? Does Dayton review their proposal and evaluate each USAF requirement and give input if the chosen solution is fully in compliance? Airbus knows they will loose as Boeing needs the contract and Lockheed knows Boeing will get it, but Airbus can benefit from the RFQ review to make its own A330MRTTneo fully USAF spec compliant.

    • Possibly, but one wonders how much RFQ work there’d actually be. Surely it’d be a case of “Here’s the A330MRTT, it works, everyone else is buying them, it already does everything you need it to, you’re already tanking from them courtesy of allied air forces, they cost $xxmillion apiece. Interested?”… I jest, there’s bound to be somethings different (comms suite?), but it must surely be minimum work.

      Boeing needs the contract, only if it ends up profitable on the deal. Airbus slinging a competent, completed, trouble free answer in response to the RFI is bound to make Boeing’s prospects a bit on the thin side.

      • If you get the bid there is an immediate contract award so in the case of the last shootout with the A330MRT, Airbus got around a billion or so (think it was 1.2).

        They did not have to give it back, weird US Defense contact law. There has been discussion on legislation to correct that.

        In this case the USAF just had a query out and it was not contract level presentation but who had what ideas and what they would cost in a ball park estimate.

        No one gets any money in that venue, only if a contract is awarded.

      • There are alot of specifications you have to meet to be USAF compliant of a war plane. Battle hardness and separation of systems is just one. I also assume wiring standards to handle Electro Magnetic Pulses, Air filters for Atomic-, Biological-, Chemical- pollution, Laser defence, Secure military comm…

        • claes:

          Yes. The contract probably has more secret terms than the public ones.

          People need to keep in mind, this is not just a KC-135R redo.

          Its taking lessons learned from all these years and wars and applying them to a new system that while its main focus is tankering, there is a lot more to what it does not only to do that but enhance what it does in the battle space.

          Airbus will have had full access to those secret sections but again, they would remain secret unless leaked, if they were proven to leak from Airbus, then they would never get another contract (currently supplying training helicopters to the US Army)

          I don’t know if Airbus is allowed to take tht knowledge of the US specs and apply it to their world. Usually there are firewalls built to stop that as it is a deep look into US end.

          Allies often maintain their specs as there is a competitive advantage that they do not want passed on.

          The F-35 has all sorts of issues with isolating national interests from partners and still have the system work.

    • There were lots of specific USAF requirements that was not incorporated into the A330MRTT, like neither onto the KC-767 that are now on the KC-46. The KC-767 was not USAF certified for Japan and Italy. Boeing top management fooled themselves thinking they already had a fully USAF compliant tanker in the KC-767 but there was a tad bit more work and money needed to meet USAF requirements and certify the KC-46.

      • Claes is correct in that the USAF had specific requirements. Among them is being certified under FAA regulations (far from the only one but a factor)

        What Boeing management thought is hard telling, they wanted the contract and low balled it (10% less which is huge in contract terms, its called leaving money on the table).

        Clearly they were aware of most of the aspects that had to be changed and one that they volunteered (787 cockpit which has not been back fitted to the 767F)

        Boeing also low balled the T-7A contract by a whole lot. I think that had to do with keeping at least a toe in the jet fighter arena.

        Now Calhoun says that (and Air Force 1) was a mistake, hmmm, what was he doing on the board when all those decisions were made?

        Regardless, the USAF got a great deal and as the lady noted, none of it is not something we can’t work around and indeed we are used to it.

    • And who cares, even if it was better than the MRTT I wouldn’t expect European Countries to by a KC-46. The problem airbus faces in defence is that the largest defence customer by a wide margin is the US and they are spoilt for choice. Between NG, Lockheed and Boeing they can get everything they need. In some cases it’s the best the market can offer in other cases it is not. But who cares

      • ‘I wouldn’t expect European Countries to by a KC-46.’

        Why not? They already buy the F-35 over other fighters made there.

          • Keep in mind the US supplied tankers to the world in the form of the KC-135.

            At the time no one offered a tanker let alone a well developed and well proven one.

            Airbus saw an opportunity (nothign wrong with that) and other than Italy, NATO has been buying A300/A330MRT since.

            But it should be kept in mind the KC-46A was developed as a package, its not an add on here or there. That makes a far better setup as you can more easily add in future features.

            The KC-135R has been radically upgraded including glass cockpit but none of that replaces the fact that the stuff feeding into it is still steam gauge tech.

            The KC-46A is fully modern with its civilian air systems integration, navigation as well as situation awareness feeds.

            The A330MRT has over time offered add ons but it never came as a single integrated package (which is what Airbus would offer if this went to bid)

          • ” … The A330MRT has over time offered add ons but it never came as a single integrated package…”

            I have difficulties finding some clearness in your mental gyrations.

            Airbus “MRTT” is an STC. you can combine it with most other A330 STC options.

            compare to the Boeing Franketanker that does not combine with “anything”.

            Now if:
            glass cockpit for KC135 is fancy screen over steam gauges ..
            glass cockpit for KC46 is fancy screen over steam gauges ..
            767 tankers are the same layer cake design we see on the 737.

          • Uwe:

            You are correct, the KC-46A is a add on glass cockpit, but its done from and at a much deeper level.

            They stripped everything out of a 767 and started over.

            Airbus did that with FBW for the A300 (310?). This was not that deep into controls (the old stuff has advantages in EMP)

            So all the wiring, all the programing were installed as a designed suite of features. It also was designed for future adds vs oh, we never thought of that back in the day.

            And it was all not just integrated but tested as an integration.

            The A330MRT has been built to half a dozen different specs and none of them was to the extent of the US KC-X because no other country has the breadth of experience in these ops and could write those.

            It does not mean Airbus cannot modify the A330MRT into it, but they have done add ons not integration of those.

            I strongly suspect features the KC-46A flies with have not been added in.

          • TransWorld wrote
            You are correct, the KC-46A is a add on glass cockpit, but its done from and at a much deeper level.

            Gentlemen. IIRC the 767 was always a glass cockpit because its selling point was the elimination of the flight engineer. Even so, UAL and Ansett required an alternate 3 man cockpit be built.

          • Scott C:

            Having seen the pictures of a 767 cockpit, its sort of a glass cockpit but does not have the touch screens and a lot of steam gauges as well as switches there.

            So my bad, when I refer to a glass cockpit its a Garmin 1000 or a 787/A350/330 type.

            One assumption I make is that the KC-46A had to go so deep into the systems to make a 787 like cockpit, they could not make it work on a regular 767 without a major expense.

            Most likely they could do it as they had to go so deep into the 767 to make the KC-46A that it in turn worked.

            I do know the KC-46A crews love it.

          • TransWorld
            Scott C:

            Having seen the pictures of a 767 cockpit, its sort of a glass cockpit but does not have the touch screens and a lot of steam gauges as well as switches there.
            So my bad, when I refer to a glass cockpit its a Garmin 1000 or a 787/A350/330 type.

            Trans. The 767F is quite Garmin esq…… The link is the current 767F panel, It was also easily retrofitted to older aircraft. I was in BA Fuselage manufacturing planning when we offered the change to UPS and FEDEX many years ago. Hope this makes things clearer.

          • Scott C:

            Most interesting, the pictures I had seen of FedEx was the old cockpit.

            So did UPS and FEDEX go for it and that is what Boeing currently is supplying?

          • TransWorld wrote

            So did UPS and FEDEX go for it and that is what Boeing currently is supplying?

            I left the company in 2016 with flesh eating bacteria. The flight deck in the video was the standard issue for all 767s for a number of years before then. I didnt see the flight deck installatiin on the 2C so I cant tell you 100 that it is carried over exactly from the ups of fedex cockpit, but as the video mentions, there are a myriad of lru options and Im virtually certain that this system has a KC46 config flying….

          • Scott C:

            As an aside, FedEx was big into glass cockpit and they were the lead for what was referred to as the MD-10, emulated a MD-11 glass cockpit.

            I believe the latest Orbis supplied hull was an MD-10 as it was more economical in ops.

            It would be nice to see Orbis get a new 767 or A330 (767 as that is what FedEx operates and they are a huge supporter both repair, crew and financially)

      • I’m not sure how much of a problem the A330MRTT has been for Airbus. I think it was a pretty cheap job – the A330 was already well suited, already having hard points in the wings for hose dispensers. The Aussies I think paid for it to get a boom? The totally uninformed impression that I get is that it was a trouble-free development and they’ve made money on the non-US sales.

        Getting into the US market would be nice for sure, but it’s not like Airbus overall is scrabbling around to find work.

        • Yeah, the Aussies paid for it to get a boom alright. Let’s just say that the KC-30 (the Aussies’ A330MRTT with a boom) development was not trouble free.

          The first KC-30 should’ve been delivered in 2009, but was actually delivered in 2011. EADS was encountering development problems. Then, after delivery, the KC-30 spent 4 years on the RAAF’s “Projects of Concern” list. The RAAF flew the KC-30 without using the boom because they didn’t want to endanger the crews. Finally, in 2015, the RAAF conducted the first KC-30 boom refueling trial using the E-7A Wedgetail as a receiver. RAAF boom refueling capability was 6+ years late.

          • 330 MRTT can do automatic refueling using a boom that seems to overperform that of B – for one thing it is not blind in some situations…

          • Matthew:

            Keep in mind it took the Australians 5 years to get the A330MRT into operational service. So yea, there were a lot of issues.

            It does not mean it does not do the job for Australia. But it was not a slam dunk.

            It also was not built to the Specs the KC-46A was.

            Among those is that the KC-46A acts as a command node and can do a variation of AWACS work with the feeds.

            The A330MRT has been offered with packages that do some of that and probably they have a complete build out that may match it, but its never been through or done to US specs or testing.

            MQ-25 is doing auto fueling and the KC-46A will probably be offered with that at some point or specified in an upgrade.

            I think only Singapore has test the Auto Fueling and I do not believe its in service yet.

          • According to guys from AW:
            the delivery of the MRTT to Australian was delayed by their airworthiness requirements until May 2011.

            I guess not many here are willing to look at these things objectively. It’s laughable when BA KC-46A experienced multiple issues, including leaky toilets, centre fuel tank paint issues etc.

          • Airbus effort in that domain started with the A310 MRT ( freighter door, non tanker, MEDEVAC I/II, palletized versatile modules ..)
            then they followed up with the A310MRTT, hose and drouge fueling.
            The boom package was initially developed on the A310.
            Whole thing looks like a carefully premeditated devel path.
            A330 airframe is a natural offer: outer hardpoints and large integral tankage ( both A340 tradeoffs )
            As a set of STCs the packages are combinable with new and used airframes, pax, freighter or combi versions

          • Well there are those who can ignore the issues, but the reality is that the Aussie A330MRT took 5 years to get into operational service.

            The bottom line is it was not a slam dunk and they just added a boom and life was good.

            There is no question Boeing has been negligent on the KC-46A, that is a reality and its being worked through and the US got a great deal and saved huge volumes of money and its had no real impact.

            No one can say what issues Airbus would have had with a USAF KC-X spec tanker.

          • Nice try Pedro.
            Perhaps you should take your own advice on objectivity.

            Here’s the real reason the KC-30 deliveries to the RAAF ran over two years late.

            Boom or bust! – RAAF KC-30 loses boom
            RAAF deliveries are currently running more than two years behind schedule due to development delays with the boom, and issues in writing the aircraft’s comprehensive technical publications.

            Not to mention two lost booms, during the very smooth development.

            Nothing at all to see here, folks! That stuff that happened way back when… pay no attention to it. It doesn’t fit the narrative.

          • The real point in all this is its not easy and anyone can have issues.

            The A330MRT had one boom rammed off and the other was not correctly fastened. It happens.

            The A330MRT is doing the mission that those who bought it for wanted and or needed.

            Australia flies a lot of crews around to a lot of excersizes (including to Alaska) and the pax deck and ability to load their parts in the hold is important to them.

            The US has spare parts and a world fleet system to keep the stocks up and the opportunity if a tanker is heading to Japan you can easily load bulk cans and deliver stuff.

            But you can’t do tanking and carry freight unless you are dragging a squadron out and then you have trade off on range and fuel offload.

            Airbus worked into the tanker world easier than Boeing did. No one had built a real military tanker in a long time, civie mods do not count though Israel made them work for their end.

    • That’s not really true, the KC46 is better sized for current aircraft infrastructure as well. This was why the win was overturned, MRTT is bigger and holds more, but unless that’s a requirement it becomes an irrelevant dimension.

      • If only it [the KC-46A] worked and was fully operational; after all,
        it’s only been *twelve years* since Boing was awarded that contract.


        • Vincent:

          It is operational and its cleared to tank every aircraft in the inventory (sans the A-10)

          The A-10 issue is a USAF spec that was wrong, not a Boeing spec, Boeing met the spec and the USAF is paying to fix it.

          The USAF also mis specified aspects of the Remote Vision System.

          Boeing is paying to fix the central part of the system (direct tanking) the USAF is paying to fix their mistaken spec on the wide view portion.

  2. ‘Airbus then, and now, planned to build a final assembly plant at its aerospace complex in Mobile (AL) to assemble the tanker. ‘

    Does that make the MRTT a domestic product?

    • @Frank: In the Boeing trade complaint filed with the US Dept of Commerce against Bombardier over the CSeries, Boeing noted in a footnote that the Mobile (AL) final assembly line produced airplanes that would be considered US-domestic aircraft

      • @Scott Fair point – does this change, given that this is for the US military and the rules and regs may be different?

        (Why do you have to remind me of how that beautiful aircraft used to be owned by a Canadian company who messed it up? I’m pleased that Airbus picked it up and is moving it forward, but I liken it to the fate of the Avro Arrow. The poor minnows that got squashed…again. Sniff)

        • It looks like Airbus is adding 1,000 jobs in Mobile AL, while Boing sheds US jobs just as quickly as possible. Which half of the duopoly can fairly be called an “American” company?

          • Airbus is doing only final assembly with non union low wage workers for the sake of labeling its substandard products Made in USA.
            Boeing products have except for the 787 a very high U.S. content and are built by union workers. Their R&D, engineering, flight text is done in USA by Americans. That not the case of Airbus
            For me any American supporting or working for Airbus is a Benedict Arnold.

          • Philippe:

            While I appreciate the support, the 767 has large chunks made in Japan as does the 777.

            Nothing inferior about the Airbus builds as they meet the specifications that the FAA put the 787 on hiatus for as they did not (also built by non union labor, though maybe assembled by them)

            It really does not matter, Union is not better, its how management and unions or workers interact and is the pay and benefits good.

      • To that point, about domestic A220’s;

        Not one A220-300 for Delta, Jetblue or Breeze has been produced in Mirabel. They have all been made in Mobile. Delta has taken delivery of all of their A220-100’s from Mirabel.

        Seems to me that Airbus doesn’t want to get into any issues with US carriers taking the -300 and opening up a can of worms.

        Which brings up another point:

        If SWA was seriously considering an A220 purchase, I wonder if they looked at the current (and future) production rate out of Alabama and thought it too low, for their needs. Mind you, in hindsight – the Max 7 hasn’t been flying off the shelves, has it?

        • Frank P:

          A lot of the 767 is built in Japan.

          When you consider how many US specific systems and engines would be US I don’t think that is an issue.

          LM said they would assemble it in Marrieta. Shrug. Huge amount of money to setup the assembly and get through test even in Alabama as nothing is there to do it in.

          I have been saying its a KC-46A extension for some time and I believe it goes well past the 75. There are almost 500 KC-135R that need to be replaced and the constant comment is we don’t have enough tankers

          The US has a lot of tankers but it operates in a huge venue all over the world, so a tanker in Alaska does you no good if you need it in the Middle East.

          Yes you can shift tankers around, but then the Alaska tankers are here to support USAF ops in Alaska and the Air Defense Zone.

          It can be short term solution but long term it has impacts.

          No other air force in the world operates even close to on the scale the USAF does.

          There are now more KC-46A built than A330MRT and will continue to be so.

          • @Trans

            ‘ There are almost 500 KC-135R that need to be replaced and the constant comment is we don’t have enough tankers’


            ‘There are now more KC-46A built than A330MRT and will continue to be so.’

            72 delivered to USAF.
            128 total ordered by USAF.
            $7 billion written off.

            Boeing Losses on KC-46 Tanker Top $7B


            ‘The U.S. Air Force has been increasingly using the 69 KC-46 tankers in its fleet for refueling missions around the world. The service has already ordered 128 tankers—more than 70 percent of the 179 it intends to buy. ‘


            Air Force Slashes ‘Bridge Tanker’ Buy, Sets Deadline for Clean-Sheet Aerial Refueler


            The U.S. Air Force is shrinking its next planned purchase of tanker aircraft—the ones made to a modified-jetliner design—and getting serious about its stealthy next-gen aerial refueler.

            The service will buy only 75 tankers in its upcoming “Bridge Tanker” tranche, Andrew Hunter, the service’s top weapons buyer, announced Monday evening at an Air Force Association conference in Aurora, Colorado. That’s down from the “up to 160” aircraft that Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall talked about last year.

            Hunter also offered new details on the tanker after that: he said the Next-Generation Aerial Refueling System, or NGAS, needs to be able to fly deeper into contested airspace and have more self-protection and advanced networking than the current KC-135, KC-10, and KC-46 tankers. He said service leaders want NGAS flying before the end of the 2030s.

            The decision to consider “a clean-sheet-of-paper approach not constrained to commercial-derivative aircraft” was driven by “threats that are posed by potential adversaries to high-value aircraft, including tankers,” he said. “We have to have an approach that allows us to address those threats and still refuel the joint force and allow it to engage them [in] all of the critical operations that are required for high-intensity conflict.”


            Doesn’t sound like the KC-46 is going to get over 500 ordered, as you purport.

            ‘After two decades, the Air Force is still in the first phase of that plan: buying 179 KC-46 tankers, which are modified Boeing 767s. The second part, the Bridge Tanker, is being cut from 160 to 75 planes over five years, Hunter said, adding that they will likely be KC-46s as well.

            “We do expect based on the information that industry has previously provided that that may lead us towards KC-46 is the answer,” Hunter said.’

          • Frank P:

            Note I said BUILT not delivered. Just as accounting has written definitions of its terms, an engineering/technician is most carefully with their use of verbiage.

            This is where things get into the technical side.

            “KC-135As and some KC-135Es re-engined with CFM56 engines, more than 417 converted[1]”

            We also have 60 KC-10 to replace – that pushes it up to 477 (darn, we are close to 500).

            The USAF is complaining it does not have enough tankers. Well darn it, lets just give them another 50 and, over 500 are we not (I know my math is not the best so check me on this)

            And the KC-46A is built to a single spec, not the half dozen or so that the A330MRT is.

            Lower costs all across the board.

  3. Both Airbus and Boeing planes have parts from all over the world.

    What is an US-Product?

    How much of the value must be generated in USA?

  4. MRTT,, KC767 -v1, -v2

    and now:
    KC-X and now KC-Y

    are there actually any technical differences
    between the two US-Airforce projects ?

    • Once they are defined, yes.

      Keep in mind that the KC-46A was a replacement for the KC-135R (KC-X)

      The USAF was looking at a KC-10 replacement of the KC-Y.

      Now X and Y are the same and the NGST is the Z.

      USAF never accepted a 767T . Italy did, Japan did but not the USAF, that has been all KC-46A.

  5. Thanks for this article, Scott. Do you have any idea on aircraft EMP hardening complexity and cost? As I understand this subject, the KC 46 is fully compliant on this, and the AB MRTT is not.

    • @Montana: I don’t. I haven’t seen any specifications requirement, so I can’t answer…

      • MontannaOsprey:

        There is entire sections of the KC-X specs that are secret. More specifically they are USAF specs.

        Airbus may offer hardening but its not necessarily to or would meet USAF specs.

        You see hints of those specs but unless someone leaks it, we don’t know what those are other than in general.

        Airbus would have to extensively modify an A330MRT just like Boeing did the 767 to meet the USAF specs. One of the reasons Boeing had such a problem.

        Israel put booms on a 767s (as did Boeing) but those were not a full USAF speced out KC-X.

    • On EMP hardening, the KC46 is compliant
      with the USAF requirements. What is not known are the specific differences between the MRTTs EMP package and the USAF requirements. There is a high probability that they are functionally identical. The statement that the MRTT doesnt comply with USAF requirements is disengenious and misses the fact that it doesnt have to. Nobody spent the money to submit the MRTT to the USAF because they could care less about the MRTT. You can just as easily infer that the KC46 is inferior because it does not meet NATO EMP standards…… Understanding NATO interoperational requirements, the specs for each probably provide the same emp hardening requirements in different requirements packages especially since NATO and the USA coordinate so everything works together in the battlespace…….

      • Scott C:

        I am not sure I get the argument.

        If Airbus is going to bid into the US tanker program they also have to meet the USAF specs. I don’t believe there is any latitude for functionally equivalent.

        Equally the A330MRT is not a NATO aircraft. Each individual country has order it to their own specs. There is one small group that is a joint buy for 3 or 4 NATO countries.

        NATO specs are at the operational level.

        A 155 mm artillery tube made in France does not have to meet anyone’s specs. The ammo does.

        There never has been a NATO spec for tankers as far as I know. The boom receptacle is the only standard (as is the drogue) and radio coms would also be a NATO standard.

        • Trans.
          My point is that the KC46 supporters say that TODAY the MRTT doesnt comply with EMP requirements as if that makes the airplane inferior. Of course if it was offered on a USAF bid, it would be a fully compliant aircraft then….. The intellectual dishonesty of banging that drum is what I was pointing out…… is that better?

        • @TW – The Airbus KC45 that won and the lost to the Boeing KC46 must have met USAF EMP specifications since it eventually lost on price. In light of that competition where the Airbus offering was compliant in all areas except being higher priced, I don’t see why you and others in the forum continue to harp on this EMP issue.

          Airbus can offer a A330 MRTT tanker that will meet ALL USAF specifications, it has done so in the past competitions. So please can we move on to other subjects matter? In my view the EMP argument is a red herring. The Boeing offering will win because of the following reasons;
          1. Despite it current flaws the KC46 is already in service
          2. Boeing is the home team and it is in financial trouble. Congress will not be pleased it Boeing loses. Also the Pentagon needs to keep a primary supplier in business.

          • Scott C:

            I got it and agree. But to pass a US speced KC-X tanker, it has to meet the specs (no I do not know if they can substitute an equivalent aspect, see the story below)


            I am sorry to pop the balloon, but what the USAF received for the KC-X from Airbus and Boeing was a PROPOSAL that supposedly met the requirements (ie on paper).

            The Australians also received a paper proposal and then took 5 years for Airbus to convert that into a working tanker and it did not have the same stuff that the KC-X had.

            Boeing then had all sorts of issues meeting what they proposed as would Airbus (one part was using the Airframe as an antennae, we do not know WHY Boeing did that but you can bet your bottom dollar it was to meet a spec not because they wanted to make their own life difficult.

            The 787 cockpit was to ensure that the KC-46A met current and all anticipated future requirements in that area (a lot to do with the Civilian world and operating in Civilian Airspace that USAF aircraft had to add on)

            What we do know is Airbus never made a version of the A330MRT to USAF KC-X tanker specs.

            We do know Airbus has offered some of those features as an add on but not part of the core aircraft.

            I will continue to address the reality of the two.

            And I will continue to say that I have nothing against the A330MRT, I will say you could not fly one in from any country that met the US specs and the only way forward would be a waiver or a costly specific spec built tanker.

            You can add into that what you want or will but that is the facts.

            I worked with a company that bid a contract to supply a US base with a backup generator for their telephone system switch center (this was the public phone system on base not the Mil Spec super secret talky phone that scrambles and de-scrambles on each end)

            The issue was the generator proposed was not EMP hardened.

            Uhh guys, this is a civilian switch center, it would cost 10X what we are proposing and its not needed.

            Nope, you install a generator on a US Army base and its EMP per spec.

            How about we put the building on civilian land on the edge of the base? Not only no, but heck no.

            You guys know its going to delay your project for more than a year while we get an EMP generator built? We don’t care.

            They fi8nally called our senior US Senator, Ted, we have a problem and its stupid, can you help.

            Ted office looks into it, yes Ted its stupid, can you all the Army Secretary and tell him that?

            So they did and got a waivre but the Army was really ticked and if a wire run was 1mm out of line, they had to re-do it.

      • Scott,

        If the MRTT complied with US requirements, then why did EADS want $B’s when they bid the KC-45 in competition with the KC-46? The MRTT already had the boom and the hose/drogue. What did they need to develop for all that money?

        • Mike. I never said the MRTT met the USAF emp standards. Detractors of the MRTT jump on that in an effort to smear the airplane and show its alleged inferiority….. All I did was remind everyone that it IS emp hardened to a different standard, is very highly likely to be acceptable as is if submitted for USAF acceptance and that there is a high level of hiprocracy in telling this story as a half truth….. ultimately, even though I prefer the KC46 because I worked them, I cant stand the sleaze of half truths smearing a decent bird. Thats why I suggested that the euro view of the KC46 could use the argument that its emp hardening doesnt meet their standards as a way to show ITS alleged inferiority……

        • Just a guess:
          why do airlines have to give up front payment?

          both parties _offered_ a final product that would be made to comply to a range of requirements. to wit: EMP resistance as described by some Airforce spec.

          Neither had at the time a product that out of the box was shown to conform to those specs.

          Afaics : Airbus did have a product that went a lot further towards those requirements than B had.:-)

          Did Boeing really meet those specs for the delivered product or did they get another waiver …

        • @MB – Simple, Airbus wanted to make a profit on it’s offering and not do what Boeing did, lose money on it’s offering, US$7 billion to date (stand to be corrected).

          Also note that Airbus offered a larger and more capable aircraft in terms of fuel load and range than the Boeing 767 based offering

          • Branaboy:

            Yes they did and the RFP did not allow credit for it and the KC-46A met all the minimum requirements.

            So it was a cost shootout and Boeing made sure they won that.

            The A330MRT also cost more to run and takes up more ramp space.
            As those were negatives, that would have weighed in if Boeing had not won on cost.

            In fuel savings alone there is billions over the life of the program.

  6. Is there real competition in these contracts??? I have a feeling Boeing can offer a 737-100 and be declared the “winner”!

    • RB:

      In reality Boeing can offer a 767 for less than Airbus can offer an A330.

      One way to allow two different size aircraft to compete is to add bonus points for features (in the case of the A330MRT you could add a bonus for a longer range and fuel offload than the KC-46A can do.

      But the last competition was price based, low bidder wins (they still have to meet the USAF specs).

      Boeing in public put forth the notion that if fuel offload was the issue and there was enough points, it could bid the 777.

      There was minimums that had to be met (KC-X) but no award for maximums like overall cargo (Boeing wins on the open deck and cargo door)

      The trainer contract for the T-7A did not award major points for some of the features the T-50 offered. There were some bonus points but it was pretty much a price shootout and Boeing bid low.

      USAF has clause that if its technically risky that is a negative and can sink a contract.

      An area the A330MRT could not beat the KC-46A in was fuel burn. Its a lighter aircraft and low powered engines and fuel burn. There are littterly billions in savings over the life of a tanker air frame in that.

      In reality is really difficult to have bonus points that offset price but it can be attempted.

      In the KC-X final bid, those were not in the RFP and that was the issue Airbus got sunk on, the USAF gave Airbus the bonus but it was a violation of the bid and Boeing won on appeal to the GAO.

      • Trans

        Well written as always….. There is also a point I seldom see discussed….. It takes roughly 2 KC46s to carry the gas MRTT does. When the shooting starts, 2 KC46s get the strike package off the boom 50 % faster-ish because there are twice as many boom equivalents in the air…… That gos straight to mission effectiveness and survivability

        • Scott C:

          Thank you. To be clear, if the USAF selected the A330MRT I would have no issues with it. It would actually be a plus to the US in that the A330MRT would be in the US and possibly the NEO as well.

          It would duplicate aspects and it would have costs in lack of commonality (the KC-135 fleet is pretty homogeneous though some have the latest cockpit upgrades)

          In the various conflicts the US has used NATO tankers though that used to be KC-135, booms are agnostic (and the US has supported NATO countries).

          As long as you can get your strike package off tankers are agnostic. More tankers means more flexibility.

          The KC-X program profile was for missions previously flown.

          What that does in the Pacific (and hopefully we do not find out) depends on where the tankers are based.

          What a A330MRT does not solve is how close you have to be for the tanking and a mission flown, that is purely up to how much range your fighter has (the bombers can fuel far enough out but only can go close in if its a B-2)

          There really are no pat answers to this.

          Most missions to this point bring a lot of fuel back, ergo the A330MRT offload is not an advantage, more booms in the air would be.

          One area that gets attention is say an A330MRT based out of Hawaii and what it could do.

          If you have to base the tanker out of Hawaii where do you base your fighters from? KC-46A out as far as they can go and then A330MRT from the allies?

      • “But the last competition was price based, low bidder wins (they still have to meet the USAF specs).”

        IMU it was :
        if the offer delta is >10% low bidder wins
        else offers are compared on advantage points.

        Boeing lowballed by more than 10%.
        ( and apparently knew beforehand about pricing of the “other” offer. )

        The German language differentiates between “billig” and “preiswert”. The US got “billig” 🙂

      • @TW

        Oh not that long ago, I heard some here argued, because of low utilization, a more efficient engine etc is not a priority for the air force. Here you tout about the “billions” in saving? What an irony.
        What changed your mind? 🙄

  7. When France and Canada unfortunately bought Airbus A330MRTT tankers, unfortunately Boeing was not invited to bid. So why the US should let heavily subsidized French-German-Spanish Airbus bid for DOD contracts. No reason at all.

    The A330MRTT is already a relic compare to what Boeing is working on: MQ-25A, BWB tanker.

    • Phillipe:

      That is the area that people who are all for the A330MRT don’t want to discuss.

      Some of the bids were that, bids (South Korea). Others were just negotiated.

      Canada may have given a lot of weight to cargo and range. France simply can’t buy a KC-46A as long as there is an Airbus tanker.

      It is ironic though.

    • I am not sure what you mean by (in the case of Canada alone) Boeing was ‘not invited to bid’. A more accurate statement was that the Boeing offer did not meet the requirements listed by Canada. Since there were no other offers available, the issue became a single source by Type but a competition for costing of platforms which finished up with a mix of second-hand (needed quickly for the transport function) and new.

      I am obviously unaware (as just about everyone is) as to the requirements Boeing could not meet – but suspect they revolved around the transport function in which the Airbus is obviously far superior in terms of loadings.

      • David:

        And Candada could write their specs to ensure the KC-46A did not meet them and ignore the KC-46A advantages.

        That is Candada right but the hard feelings (justified) over Boeing and the then C Series debacle lingers.

        Frankly the only A330MRT win that puzzles me is the South Korean and that because none of the A330MRT advantages applies to South Korea area of operations

    • It is patently false to make such a claim that BA was not invited to bid. Get your facts right.

    • Airbus deemed only qualified supplier for new RCAF refueling and VIP aircraft

      Industry sources said Canada also received a response to its request for proposals from Boeing.


      ‘The A330MRTT is already a relic compare to what Boeing is working on: MQ-25A, BWB tanker.’

      Jeez – if the A330MRTT is a relic, what does that make the KC-46?


      • Canada had never been interested by the Boeing tanker. Nevertheless, it was a revanche from the Trudeau Governement for 2016 spat between Boeing and Bombardier about the CSeries heavy subsidies from the governments of Canada and Quebec.

        Any the best air forces in the world picked the KC-46A: the USAF and Heyl HacAvir,

        • No it was not – there is absolutely nothing to suggest that the transport/tanker deal had anything to do with Boeing’s previous attempt to wreck the success of the then-Bombardier airliner.
          And if you must cite politics the IDF has always bought US aviation products since the US supplied funds on condition US products were bought – that of course after France refused to do the same!

  8. Philippe Cauchi: I enjoyed your “except for the 787”
    caveat, which is made in non-union, >>QC-plagued<<
    Charleston. Is there a Boing program at present that is *not in turmoil* due to QC issues?

    Airbus says their new jobs in Mobile
    will average $65k/yr; and I'd trust them over the defective, craven, C-suite/MBA-driven Boing Corp any time.

    "By their fruits ye shall know them.."

    Corrections are welcome.

    • Afaics : the conjoined union and qualification/jobs assighnment system appears dysfunctional, corrupt.

      Most foreing entities setting up production in the US
      go to “right to work” states and carefully qualify their workforce to high(er) standards.
      Better to work from a clear slate.
      They seem to show some success?

      The “US resident is better than anyone else” is religious jingoism applied with a baseball bat.

  9. Vincent
    Standard ARM, F15, F18, Chinook, Apache, Small Diameter bomb, JDAM, 777F, P8 are all operating without any press reports of Quality Issues. Im sure there are others.

    • Not a Quality issue but papers here in Canada were reporting serious shortages in terms of supply items and delays in arrival of spares for the P8 “world wide” (whatever that means). All this as there is some pressure on the government to ‘reconsider’ its decision to award the maritime patrol contract to Boeing. Though of course much of this could be driven by the competing Bombardier proposal!

        • LOL

          France tried to strong arm Germany into an A320 look alike to the P-8.

          The Germans looked at it and it was, we need a proven solution next year not 100 years from now and declined.

          What made the P-8 work was from the get go it was P-3 systems installed and then a spiral upgrade started. Latter versions had tested systems inserted and those system can be (I don’t know if they have yet) back fitted to the early P-8.

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