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KC-Y - KC-10 Replacement

The Air Force revised its acquisition strategy in 2007 and planned to recapitalize the aerial tanker fleet by developing three consecutive acquisition programs: KC-X, KC-Y, and KC-Z. The intention of those programs was to represent different tanker aircraft platforms. Air Force staff have described the KC-Y and KC-Z programs as budgetary "off ramps."

The Air Force needs to replace its aging KC-135 tankers, which have an average age of 49 years. Replacement of the legacy fleet will take place in three stages, known as the KC-X, the KC-Y, and the KC-Z. The initial KC-X increment will replace roughly a third of the current capability with the purchase of 179 aircraft. The KC-X will be able to provide fuel to joint and coalition receivers via a boom or drogue system on every mission and will also augment the airlift fleet with cargo, passenger and medical evacuation capabilities.

Senior Department of Defense and Air Force officials announced the rollout of the KC-X Acquisition Program at a Pentagon briefing 24 September 209. Air Force leaders were seeking a replacement for the KC-135 Stratotanker that has been a stalwart of the tanker fleet for more than 53 years. "As we integrate the KC-X into the fleet, we will begin evaluating our future tanker needs and begin work on the second phase, KC-Y," Michael Donley, secretary of the Air Force, said. A third phase is called KC-Z.

Under the Future Technology for Aerial Refueling (FTAR) program, France, Germany, Italy, the UK and the USA would conduct collaborative study work in the automation of aerial refueling, to include manned and unmanned receivers, operation in a mixed manned and unmanned combat environment, and operation of unmanned tankers.

The Air Force announced selection of the Boeing tanker in February 2011. Replacement of the legacy KC-135 fleet will take place in three stages, known as the KC-X (now the KC-46), KC-Y, and the KC-Z. The KC-46 will provide fuel to joint and coalition receivers via a boom or drogue system on every mission and will also augment the airlift fleet with cargo, passenger and aeromedical evacuation capabilities. The KC-46 will be able to operate in day/night and adverse weather conditions to enable deployment, employment, sustainment and redeployment of U.S. joint, allied, and coalition forces.

KC-46 funding will support various studies and analyses including the five-nation Future Technology for Aerial Refueling (FTAR) project, and KC-Y/KC-Z planning activities. The intention of those programs was to represent different tanker aircraft platforms. Over a 15- to 20-year period, the Air Force plans to acquire as many as 179 KC-X aircraft by competitively procuring as many as 80 commercial-derivative aircraft. The Air Force retains an option to acquire at least 99 aircraft from the winner of the competitive procurement using a noncompetitive acquisition. Alternatively, the Air Force may bypass future KC-X aircraft in favor of a new KC-Y competition based on a different aircraft platform..

Air Mobility Command director of strategic plans, requirements and programs discussed innovation and technology that will shape the total force mobility enterprise in the coming years during an Air Mobility Command requirements brief at the 2014 Air Force Association Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition, Washington, DC, 16 September 2014. Maj. Gen. Michael S. Stough highlighted additional autonomy on the next-generation KC-Y or KC-Z. Stough said that concept doesnt necessarily mean fully autonomous or unmanned as the next step. He said it could include looking at how future generations of tankers can add autonomy in ways that allow for potentially decreasing the number of crew members on an aircraft, or keeping the same number but increasing the safety, assistance, and decision-making ability the crew- members have. We think theres great promise in autonomy, he said.

The future "KC-Z" tanker could look very different than the large-bodied, commercially derived tankers of today; it could be stealthy, carry missile-shooting lasers, and even fly autonomously.

Speaking at a press briefing during the Air Force Association's annual conference on 20 September, General Carlton Everhart, head of US Air Force Air Mobility Command, said that the 179 KC-46As in the USAF's budget plan are insufficient. He also wants procurement of the KC-Z to occur in 2035, with any potential gap filled by a KC-Y program. "I want to jump the leap in technology to go straight to the KC-Z," he said. "If it means to bridge that, sure. But I'm also looking to the next leaps in technology because we do supply fuel to the nation."

Everhart said the Air Force will initiate a study in 2016 to examine potential technology for the KC-Z. He said that he was interested in standoff and penetrating capabilities for an anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) environment. "We're going to need a platform that we've never seen before," he said. "The blended or hybrid wing, it's a lifting body and it has a capability of being low observable." He added that an unmanned tanker similar to the US Navy's MQ-25A Stingray could also be of interest.

The next tranche to replace the Air Force's 59 wide-body KC-10 tankers, dubbed KC-Y, is expected around 2020-2024. The first 179 were going to be the KC-X competition. It will start all over again in a few more years. The Air Force will take a look at the 179 aircraft that are on hand. The Air Force will will look at the requirements and then go back in and look at the second tranche, known as the KC-Y. The plan calls for procurement of 15 KC-Ys a year from 2024-36, then nine KC-Zs a year until 2048.



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