Lockheed is no longer looking to offer the Airbus A330 on a contract basis

Lockheed Martin has abandoned plans to provide aerial refueling services using a version of the Airbus A330 Multi-Role Transporter (MRTT). In collaboration with Airbus, Lockheed Martin originally announced this possibility in 2019, as part of a suite of various air refueling proposals, primarily intended for the USAF. The A330 MRTT was subsequently renamed the LMXT in the specific configuration being offered for this service, although Lockheed has now determined that there is no reliable business case for them to offer contracted carriers to the US Air Force or to any other country. Client.

While Lockheed Martin is no longer interested in providing contract carrier solutions, it is still trying to sell the LMXT to the Air Force to meet the requirements of the interim carrier acquisition plan, currently referred to as the KC-135 recapitalization effort. Despite the name, this is intended to allow the Air Force to continue replacing aging KC-135s and KC-10s as it moves toward a true next-generation design, even though the scope of the program is scaled back. The company also says it will continue to enjoy interest from third-party private air refuelers who may still want to offer the LMXT or A330 MRTT to other customers under a contract model.

Lockheed Martin confirmed all of this to L.L war zone Yesterday, at a press conference attended by a number of journalists, the company announced the selection of the GE Aerospace CF6-80E1 turbofan engine for the LMXT engine. The CF6-80E1 is already one of the powertrain options available for the A330 MRTT.

Despite losing interest in offering its own contract carrier services, Lockheed Martin remains optimistic about the LMXT’s prospects with the Air Force.

As it stands, once the Air Force completes its planned purchase of 179 KC-46s — with the last of those aircraft scheduled for delivery in 2029 — the service wants to immediately begin receiving what it previously referred to as “bridge carriers.” These additional refueling aircraft are expected to be filled between the end of the planned purchases of KC-46s and the acquisition of a future aerial refueling aircraft.

At one stage between 140 and 160 examples of the bridge carrier design were likely to be acquired, although this number has since been cut by almost half, to 75 aircraft. Between them, the additional carriers and KC-46s should make up for the withdrawal of more than half of the existing KC-135s, while the KC-10s are now ready for retirement which still leaves a large portion of the KC-135 fleet remaining for replacement with a future carrier type.

Importantly, KC-46 will also be in operation for this temporary contract, also referred to in the past as KC-Y.

Recognizing this fact, as part of their ongoing sales pitch for the LMXT, Lockheed Martin officials yesterday raised a possible scenario in which the issue of sidelining the KC-46 fleet (should it opt ​​for the bridge carrier) would leave the Air Force with a large tank gap if there was no other type in stock. .

As far as the contractor-run model is concerned, there has been its time and still is for this purpose, with the Air Force and Navy hiring multiple companies over the years to provide aerial refueling services. Omega, a US company that pioneered tanker contracting for the US military and others, was mentioned by name in yesterday’s Lockheed briefing. This company has since been joined by other companies, an increasing number of which are now operating aircraft that increasingly feature refueling arms, as well as hose and fuel refueling systems.

As another example of contractor-supported air refueling services, Airbus is chairing a consortium called AirTanker, which introduces the A330 MRTTs charter scheme. The United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force is AirTanker’s primary customer.

The US Air Force, in collaboration with the US Transportation Command, has explored the idea of ​​chartered carriers, as well as other government-owned, but contractor-operated options in the past, as you can read more about here.

Back in 2019, the Air Force was dealing with frequent setbacks in the KC-46 program, while the US Navy and US Marine Corps were increasingly turning to contractors to provide aerial refueling services. for training As well as developmental and operational testing and evaluation work.

With the KC-46 behind schedule, and the Air Force’s KC-135R/T Stratotanker and KC-10A Extender fleets increasingly showing their age, it looked as if Lockheed Martin and Airbus might finally find a way to challenge Boeing’s dominance in the United States. Military tanker market.

The Cold War-era KC-135 Stratotanker still dominates the Air Force’s tanker inventory. US Air Force

The fully contracted refueling tanker option looked as if it could offer the Air Force some significant benefits.

As we are in war zone Discussed in detail, such a setup, with the Air Force obtaining at least a portion of its aerial refueling needs from private contractors, would have freed up KC-10s and KC-135s for actual operational missions as well as cost savings.

Lockheed also noted other advantages of the A330 MRTT design, including a configuration that heavily emphasizes fuel capacity, something that will come at a premium to the Air Force in future conflicts, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. Indeed, the realities of waging a future war in this region mean that the US Army as a whole is only ready to see more and more requests for air refueling.

At the same time, the proposal from Lockheed Martin and Airbus also saw the provision of contract refueling tankers as a starting point for developing new, advanced tanker concepts of the type the Air Force sees as increasingly vital to sophisticated operations in the future. . The latest program to emerge in this space is called the Next Generation Refueling System (NGAS) and reflects the growing realization that regular tankers will not be able to survive enough on the future battlefield.

The Air Force has said it would like to have a fleet of next-generation aerial refueling tankers in service by at least 2040, and before that if possible. At the same time, the service appears to be increasingly viewing the idea of ​​a “bridge tanker” competition as an unwelcome distraction to NGAS.

Interestingly, when speaking yesterday, Larry Gallogly, Lockheed Martin’s LMXT Campaign Manager, said he believes there is still a role for traditional (non-stealth) carriers in the future – including as refueling “mother ships” because of their lower counterparts who can notice them and more advanced. Comments like this one suggest there is at least some controversy in the background to all this about where non-stealth carriers will be in the Air Force in the future.

Altogether, the likelihood that the Air Force will now choose the LMXT as its interim carrier, or even hold a competition at all, certainly seems reduced. Publicly at least, Lockheed Martin remains confident that there is a requirement out there and that its bid can still win the upcoming competition.

Contact the author: [email protected]

Joseph Trevithick contributed to this story.

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