A provision in the Senate’s 2004 $87 billion emergency supplemental appropriations bill that would have required the Pentagon to explore other alternatives to replace the Air Force’s current KC-135 tankers has been removed. The Pentagon, backed by the Bush administration, wants to lease new tankers based on Boeing’s 767. Apparently, exploring those alternatives opens the door to further changes which could expedite the leasing of the 767s.
I’ll admit that I don’t quite understand all that.
What I do understand is that, in the best-case scenario, leasing the tankers costs MORE than buying them. I also understand that best-case scenarios rarely come to pass when dealing with military spending. Normally, programs seem to end up costing three time what the WORST-CASE nightmare scenario was thought to be.
If we need new tankers, and I don’t think that it has been demonstrated AT ALL that we do, we should buy them. Even the loudest alarmists admit that we’ve got years, at least, of top service left in the current fleet. And if the projected maintenance savings (70 hours per year versus 700???) are even close to accurate, I’m willing to listen.
One thing that sticks in my mind is the fact that although the 767 is bigger, meaning that fewer crews could fly as much fuel into the air, wouldn’t our options be more limited by fewer planes? If 100 767s replace 140 KC-135s, doesn’t that mean that up to 40 fewer places on earth could have refueling available at any given time? With fewer total planes available, the loss of one aircraft would have a greater impact. Maybe a mix of a few newer, bigger 767s could ply the US to Iraq route and other high-traffic lanes, and most of the rest of the globe could remain covered by the existing smaller planes. Just a thought.
And as far as 767s go, I’d be totally open to looking into their suitability as bombers. Can you imagine a few of those beasts armed with two hundred JDAMs on rotary launchers? Although they obviously wouldn’t have the survivability of a B-2 or even a B-1 or B-52, most of our enemies in this Fourth World War don’t possess the air defense capability to challenge them as they orbit five miles above a battlefield, ready to release a GPS-guided bomb at a moments notice.