New USAF tanker to be chosen next year

Air Force plans aerial tanker award in 2007

This means the first tankers may be delivered in 2011 or 2012.

Meanwhile:

777 to be Boeing’s alternative proposal for tanker

At an Air Force Association conference today in Washington, D.C., Boeing will make public for the first time a proposed U.S. Air Force refueling tanker based on its very large 777 commercial passenger jet — a potential alternative to a midsize 767 tanker.

According to a draft request for proposal (RFP) the Air Force issued Monday, the government requires a tanker that can double as a troop carrier and supply plane.

The proposed 777 tanker would have a much larger capacity for fuel, troops or cargo than either the currently offered 767 tanker or a rival offer based on the Airbus A330.

Boeing said a 777 tanker would have a maximum fuel capacity of “more than 350,000 pounds,” though a company source indicated it could stretch to more than 400,000 pounds of fuel. The Airbus tanker has a maximum fuel capacity of 250,000 pounds.

Boeing tanker spokesman Bill Barksdale said unveiling the 777 option is intended to convince observers the company is serious about providing an alternative to the original 767 tanker if the Air Force wants a bigger airplane.

The first 767 tanker, already delivered to the Italian Air Force, is still in testing. It sure would be nice to get some real-world information on how the thing performs.

Comments

  1. This is as stupid as everything else in the defense world. Why would you make an airplane that hauls cargo and jet fuel? Fuel is much denser than beans or bullets. If those in charge at the Pentagon had 2 neurons anywhere near close enough to each other to demonstrate the slightest synaptic response, they’d combine the refueling and bombing in the same airframe. It clearly works quite well as the A-6 demonstrated for the Navy for years. Apparently the laws of physics don’t apply to the Air Force. Oh and here’s a thought, a stealth fighter or bomber is only as hidden as the tanker they’re refueling from. Does that suggest anything to those Air Force boys? No, probably not.

  2. No, I’m suggesting they spend billions on developing a new bomber, which should be in the pipeline already, but, oh wait, I almost forgot the USAF is run by and for fighter pilots. The bomber would be built for a dual role, dropping bombs and tanking. The first USAF bomber was the KC-97, which was derived from what else but the B-29 Superfortress. Our convoluted path to where we are today leads back to the fact that Boeing wanted some government funding to help in the development of their first swept wing commercial jet, and thus the KC-135 was born with it’s commercial variant the 707. That was in the late ’50s early ’60s so the USAF didn’t actually fund its design, but the were essentially the launch customer. Here we are 50 years later and the 707 is long retired from production, but we are still stuck with the thinking that this has to be a commercial airplane. If they want to tank with a cargo airplane it is an easy enough modification. They could do like the C-130 does and roll a tank into the cargo compartment and hang some pods on the wing. I know the C-130 people have long proposed a boom variant where they hang one on the cargo door. So if you can knock this requirement out from either direction, why do we need a dedicated tanker airplane, and why does it need to haul cargo as a secondary function? Is it just so we can make sure Boeing gets their cut? Even at that, I’d certainly rather see the money go to Boeing than I would it go to Airbus. I’ve got something for the French, but its not money!

  3. Blended wing planes could be a true multi-role craft if designed right. Their huge internal volumn and inherit efficiency could enable a craft to be built along the same concept of the LCS. Basically a plane that could be reconfigured through the use of mission modules. As a side note – the concept of a stealth refueling plane should done.(reguardless of any actual practical value) A whole generation of air force jokes is depending on them.

  4. First, I am positively against allowing ANY foreign intrusion to the last bastion of ‘all U.S., all the time’ manufacturing. We to retain some national symbolic control over our own destiny, even if we have to cheat. I don’t think that the 777 vs. A330MRT is ‘cheating’ like the 767 was. That said, I think it is foolish to even begin to /spec/ (IRFP) a tanker until and unless you do three things: 1. Footprint it into given theaters. Remember folks, we had to settle for USN Vikings largely unescorted as ‘combat tankers’ out in the middle of Pakistan and RAF VC-10s out of Kyrghzstan in the early days of OEF and I _doubt seriously_ if access denial has gotten easier since Iraq. What this means is if you expect to bring a 200X-200ft, 750,000lb, jet to a remote theater, you had better either have really good friends. Or a bunch of Marine KC-130s to do push-forward tanking with. 2. Decide on the force structure. The USN and USMC, after wailing like spoilt children about ‘the need for naval LO’ for the better part of a decade, in 2000-2001 did their air-merge that resulted in a downgrade of the F-35B/C from 650 and 480 airframe purchase to about 240 and 170 respectively. The USAF, not wanting to get stuck with the lions share of R&D on ‘three planes, one name’ /tried/ to dump about half of their 2,400 jets, only to have Congress, always sensitive to porkbarrel projects FORCE them to ‘toe the line’ at 1,763 airframes. Why is this important? Three reasons. First, because a jet that originally was supposed to cost ‘in the range’ (1994 dollars) 28-32-35 million dollars, now runs about 112 each and is _still climbing_ which means that effectively exports are dead unless We The People subsidize them (like we did the F-16), regardless. Second, this is an all-subsonic cruise wonder that is designed to fly up to 600-650nm (yes, even after the weight gains) on 20,000lbs of internal fuel but will take about 10-12hours to do so. IOW: you will get, at most, a 2-3 sortie:day ‘surge’ before gimping back to 1-1.5 sorties, based on a manning ratio of 1.25:1 dictating pilot fatigue as much as true endurance in the combat area. Compare this to the UDS (X-45A) which was spec’d to a design radius of 1,200nm with a 3,000lb bombload AND 2hrs on station. All while carrying about 10-12,000lbs of fuel and costing about 10-15 million each. We pay a lot for the privelege of the human pilot and nowhere more than in the EFFECTIVE use of his airframe, on the target end of the radius rather than scuttling inbetween there and home plate. 3. Decide HOW you expect to pass gas. IMO, it is past time to consider differential GPS as not simply the expansion to but the _replacement of_ the human pilot in two key areas. First, inflight refueling. The AARD or Automated Air Refueling Demonstration, has proven that a drone aircraft with COMPLETELY HANDS OFF control authority imbedded in the autopilot can capture a basket moving through a +/-7ft arc /in a turn/ with nothing more than a basket sensor (laser diodes) and tuned camera as backup to what the tanker is sending out as a ‘differential’ from the satellites to it’s own positioning. JPALS or the Joint Precision Approach Landing System has achieved similar remarkable 4′ scatter margins on the three wire. Both of these roles are well beyond ANYTHING a man can reliably mimic. What this means to a tanker is the ability to put three tac-jets behind and feed the lot at roughly 90% of the transfer rates that the boom can achieve (it admittedly feeds faster to bombers). Since the ability to formate and quickly ‘get plugged’ while tired and/or flying in weather was a key factor in the original boom selection for the USAF, the question must now be put: Can we safely probe and drogue tank with a door based boom system that is compatible with LO? Many times (including Afghanistan) jets have flown without IFR probe doors because bouncing baskets have a tendency to rip them off. This was acceptable for the F-14 and 18 but it is not for Stealth Fighters. IF we can switch to P&D, we need to do so NOW because it means effectively redesigning the F-35A and indeed the whole Air Force doctrinal structure, to a new doctrinal level of capability. The thing to keep in mind here is that the USN has no tankers yet expects to get gassed. NATO increasingly has their own systems approach (including both the KC-767 and A-330MRT) but ALL of them use Probe and Drogue. CONCLUSION: There is no easy way out here. I myself despise the waste inherent to the fighters uber alles approach. Especially when, at 40-50,000ft where any enemy will HAVE TO come to fight us, the 747ABL is without a doubt the ‘worlds best fighter in the making’. It’s 1.2MW COIL having on the order of a 1,000km clear air range against slow moving targets, roughly line of sight. With this as a traditional ACM modifier as well as others like the small diameter bomb and Focussed Lethality Warhead as well as Coherent Change Detection sensor mass memories and Common Data Link architectures supporting ultrawide bandwidth, very high rate, imagery transmissions, there can be no doubt that conventional rules of air combat are now completely out the window and particularly for fighting 4GW (4th Genereation Warfare: Insurgencies and Small Scale Contingencies such as the last 4 U.S. ‘wars’ have essentially been) the old saw: ‘Fustest with the mostest fo the longest’ now definitively favors UCAVs over manned airframes. Unfortunately, the USAF has sabotaged JUCAS and the USN is unlikely to go it alone through production with the followon program. So the ability to model drone flight behaviors behind the wakes of each jet and indeed to _optimize the offload schedule_ to see whether more is truly better (or necessary) between the ‘fighter’ class (makes movies) and the ‘bomber’ (changes history) is now highly questionable. The only thing we can be sure of is that if the U.S. economy takes a turn for the worse as a looming recession suggests, we may not be able to afford much of anything _period_. And that would tend to suggest a massive restructuring of ALL forces beyond BUR or any of the other lipservice downsizing efforts thus far.