The new tanker will also have to do windows, apparently

New U.S. tanker must carry more than fuel, Wynne says

Just last week I noted that the F-22 Raptor is transmogrifying into the F/A/R/C/E-22 Swiss Army Knife. Now it appears that “all missions, all the time” is becoming SOP in the Air Force:

Competition for the contract to build a new aerial refueling tanker likely won’t start until 2007 because the service wants a plane that can carry cargo, reconnaissance sensors and troops as well as fuel, Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne said today.

“I think 2006 is still going to be a development year,” Wynne said in an interview in his Pentagon office. “Tankers are not only tankers any more. They are going to be multi-mission aircraft.”

Again, if additional useful things can be added in a cost-effective manner to existing aircraft, by all means go ahead. But don’t make those options major selling points if you’re the manufacturer or requirements if you’re the buyer. The Air Force wants, and probably needs, new tankers. But let’s not make them so complex and expensive that they never get off the ground. Or that half of them get cancelled for budgetary reasons.

Then there’s this: DOD’s new transportation chief seeks multi-mission tanker

The new head of U.S. Transportation Command said Nov. 30 that he needs new tanker aircraft with the flexibility to carry cargo or passengers as well as fuel.

Air Force Gen. Norton Schwartz, who took the command’s reins in September, said the Air Force should buy new multi-mission tankers “without delay” to replace aging Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft. Some industry officials have been predicting that cargo capacity might emerge as a key requirement, which would give the budget-constrained Air Force more bang for its tanker buck.

Schwartz, who spoke with reporters after making remarks at the Defense Logistics 2005 conference, declined to say whether the need for a multi-mission tanker or “swing asset” would merit a larger airframe than the KC-135.

The “exact dimensions” are “not the thing that I worry about,” he said. “I establish requirements, and that is that it needs to be multi-mission, it cannot be a single-mission airplane.”

That’s going to set the whole thing back years.

For what it’s worth, I came across this on

Let’s look at the possibilities from both Airbus and Boeing:

A-330TT, already selected for the RAF and RAAF tankers.

A-340-500, not mentioned before, but carries a lot of fuel.

A-350-800, mentioned several times, newest design, partially composite construction.


KC-135E converted to the KC-135R, by far the cheapest option and still in production (RC-135s), and the quickest production time.

KC-767A, in production for Italy and Japan, and some common parts with the E-10A.

B-777-200ER/LR, mentioned as a Boeing proposal and carries a lot of fuel.

B-787-800, mentioned by Boeing, and is a all composite airplane.

MD-11F, almost common with the KC-10A/KDC-10 but production would have to be reopened, as not many available on the used market.

B-747-400F/ERF, not mentioned before, but the IIAF flys KC-747-200 tankers and carries twice the fuel as most other competitors. Also has swing open nose for cargo missions.

B-747-800F, not mentioned, but the largest of all competitors and carries the most fuel. Like it’s smaller B-747-400F brother has swing open nose for cargo missions. Same very fuel efficient engines as on B-787 and A-350.

Most of these are waaaay outside of Murdoc’s sphere of knowledge. There’s a ton and a half of discussion on that board. Comments?


  1. I am reminded of the original Soviet Antanovs. These were supposed to be the be all and do all of aircraft for the CCCP. The the War happened, and they could no longer cover-up the fact that it could barely do any of its functions, much less be superior. Be wary of this new Antanov.

  2. hrm…looking into it (after the fact, silly me) I may be wrong about bits about the Antanov, but be wary anyway.

  3. Hi good post, i think however you will find that some USAF tankers have for the past year or maybe two years the ability to act as comms hubs.A pallate loaded with electronics and cooling crap i beleive but i’m go go do some searching.i think AFM did an article about this topic a while ago.

  4. Are these people so economically illiterate that they don’t understand the economy of specialization? I mean, I could see this if we had rows and rows of tankers sitting around gathering dust, but my understanding is that we are in real need of tankers to carry fuel. I don’t see when we are going to stop carrying fuel with them and use them for all these other roles. We have cargo carriers, and they need midair refueling. Build more tankers, and build more cargo planes.

  5. Phelps, I’m guessing that the idea is that its rare that you need all of your tankers and all of your transports in use at the same time. Take Operation Iraqi Freedom. Lots of transports prior to the beginning of action, getting all the troops/materiel out there. Lots of tankers during the action, refueling fighters and bombers. It might make sense to buy fewer, more expensive planes, as long as all the trade-offs make sense: cost vs number purchased vs flexibility of operations. On the other hand, I don’t know that I trust the military with large, multi-use projects. Is this the Air Force’s FCS?

  6. I don’t see why this can’t be done, but it would require a lot of common sense, something military procurement officers don’t seem to be full of. I think if the contract was set up with the right incentives, it might be fine. Basically, as long as the aircraft is strong enough, and can be loaded with pallets of items to transport, fuel tanks or electronics, it should be able to perform these multi-roles. You could, say, load 3 fuel palettes, 2 HMMWV palettes and one comms palette (or one recon palette, or whatever). It would make it more complex and probably more expensive… the question is how much, and the answer depends upon the practicality of those involved in the development I think.

  7. Tanker / Cargo craft are natural fits. The KC-135 is a tanker / cargo craft. As long as they don’t get stupid and demand STOL or unimproved runway capability – viritually any commercial cargo craft will work . This is one case where specialization, provides few if any benefits. Personally, I think the airforce should go with B-747-800F. We are allways short of cargo planes, maybe we can can get the army to chip in a few million to help buy them. Minor prediction – No way on gods green earth, will the air force choose an airbus. If they do, the airforce general is kissing his career goodbye & congress will override the decision.

  8. The new tanker will also have to do windows, apparently’ Makes sense to me. This way you can eliminate a costly ‘fuel gauge’. All you have to do is peek in the window to see how much Kerosine is splashing around.

  9. With respect to refeulering planes, what might make sense to me is if a cargo plane could be fitted with an optional means of refeuling another plane, but is still essentially a cargo plane. Get or train a crew to be able to do this work, insert a tank of fuel in the standard unmodified cargo bay, and hook it up to the fuel delivery system. While not as effective as a dedicated refeuler, no major changes need to be done to an existing plane if this is what we need in a pinch.

  10. Sam – there are aircraft that can do that, but they cost a lot more than just plain tankers. They’re basically just cargo planes with space for extra fuel tanks and the nozzles and stuff. The question is, is the extra cost necessary to make the multi-use planes justified, or is it better just to stick with seperate cargo planes and (cheap) tankers?