Air refueling is the in-flight transfer of fuel between tanker and receiver aircraft. An aircraft's ability to remain airborne is limited by the amount of available fuel. Air refueling increases the range, payload, loiter time, and ultimately the flexibility and versatility of combat, combat support, and mobility aircraft.
Air refueling forces are drawn from active duty, Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) and ANG components. Collectively, these components provide the crews, airframes, and support forces that conduct intertheater and intratheater air refueling operations in support of functional and geographic combatant commanders. These forces are capable of supporting operations across the entire spectrum of conflict. Faced with the potential of reduced overseas bases for all US forces, the concept of global reach becomes increasingly important and highlights the aerial tanker as a critical asset in meeting future needs. Air Force tankers refuel Air Force, Navy, Marine and many allied aircraft, leveraging all Service capabilities on land, sea, and in the air. Aerial refueling increases the range, on station times, and ordnance capabilities of receiving aircraft - true force multiplication.
Active duty air refueling forces are assigned to either a functional combatant command, (e.g., US Transportation Command [USTRANSCOM]) or one of the geographic combatant commands (e.g., European Command, [USEUCOM], US Pacific Command [USPACOM], or Atlantic Command [USACOM]). The forces assigned to the Commander in Chief, United States Transportation Command (USCINCTRANS) typically perform intertheater and continental United States (CONUS) missions, but also deploy to augment forces assigned to a geographic CINC or to a joint task force (JTF). Forces assigned to geographic CINCs typically perform intratheater missions and provide support to JTFs operating within their area of responsibility (AOR). These forces conduct the core day-to-day air refueling missions and most of those requiring specialized training and equipment. Active duty forces offer a CINC the most accessible and flexible refueling support because they are readily available for worldwide taskings.
Air Reserve and Air National Guard Components provide more than half the US Air Force air refueling capability. These assets are an integral part of the Air Force's peacetime operations, flying air refueling missions in support of national taskings every day. During crises, volunteers or activated AFRC/ANG units augment the active duty air refueling force, providing substantial increases in air refueling capacity. Personnel are usually experienced operators who train to the same standards as the active air refueling force. Access to AFRC/ANG forces is provided through a system of volunteerism or through formal activation of units; therefore a portion of AFRC/ANG forces are mission ready and available at all times. However, for major contingencies activation of AFRC/ANG units is normally required. The National Command Authorities (NCA) can mobilize AFRC and ANG forces in response to war and significant regional conflicts. When mobilized, AFRC and ANG units are placed on active duty status and augment the active duty forces for both intertheater and intratheater operations.
Tankers play a major role in today's regional contingencies providing an "air bridge" for short-notice contingencies such as Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR or theater combat support air refueling as employed during Operation DENY FLIGHT. Future scenarios will continue to call upon tankers to provide much the same service. Given the extensive theater participation of these assets, defensive systems for tankers should become a priority. Consistent with proximity to the battle zone and the extent of operations there, tankers need a basic ability to locate and identify threats. Air Mobility Command [AMC] is currently considering several different defensive systems in order to determine the most cost-effective means of ensuring the survivability of this limited asset while reducing reliance on external warning systems.
Future air refueling needs will not decrease as AMC reacts to the changing political environment and shifting global alliances, likewise, the expeditionary nature of the USAF will make air refueling the essential enabler of this operational concept. Air refueling core will make the US less dependent on overflight/landing rights when supporting politically sensitive areas. The contribution of the Guard and Reserve cannot be over looked, as they play a major role in providing air refueling support for AMC.
The KC-135 and KC-10 will continue to meet AMC's air refueling requirements and bolster the air mobility system into the next century. Although cargo transportation is not their primary mission, both aircraft are playing an increasing role in cargo operations. Tankers are flying more worldwide, low-volume channel and scheduled cargo missions allowing strategic airlifters to be dedicated to the tasks only they can accomplish. A cargo floor roller system eases the burden of hand loading the aircraft and reduces the time spent accomplishing airlift requirements during unit movements. Procurement of the Tunner (60K) loader will greatly enhance the en route supportability and cargo loading for the KC-10.
In an effort to improve the capabilities of AMC's tanker fleet and to provide support to carrier based aircraft, wing mounted drogue refueling pods were installed on 20 KC-10s and on 33 KC-135s to provide an extra margin of safety for receivers necessary for over water operations.
Aerial Refueling Systems CharacteristicsHose-Reel Systems
|Part No.||Model||Fuel Flow (GPM)||Aircraft Application|
|149R1001||FR300 B, D, E, F||150-330||KC-130, HC-130|
|149R1051||FR300 C||150-330||KC-130, HC-130|
|34-000-48317||Wing||400||34.0||B-707 T/T, KC-135, KC-10|
|31-300-48053||Fuselage Centerline||300||200||31.0||A-4, A-6, A-7|
|301||220||31.0||A-4, A-6, A-7, S3A,F-18|
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