Boeing wins USAF contract for next-gen midair refueller

Friday, February 25, 2011

ST LOUIS - US aerospace major Boeing has finally won the worlds biggest aerial tanker programme, defeating European conglomerate EADS which had appeared to be the favourite so far.

Boeing chairman, president and CEO Jim McNerney announced Thursday that the company had received a contract from the US Air Force (USAF) to build the next-generation aerial refueling tanker that will replace 179 of USAFs 400 KC-135 tankers.

The new tanker will be designated KC 46A, according to Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn, who declared “Boeing as the clear winner” at a Pentagon news conference. “This competition favored no one, except the taxpayer and the war fighter,” he said.

Notably, EADS had earlier won the competition but the Department of Defense had reconsidered after Boeing raised issues. EADS North America chairman Ralph D. Crosby described the result as disappointing, and said he would take it up on how USAF concluded the contract in favour of Boeing.

Boeing has designed the new tanker on its civil B-767 airliner platform, while Airbus had pitched in with the A-330 MRTT (multi-role tanker transport) which is on offer for the Indian Air Force (IAF) competition against Russian IL-78, albeit for a very small number of six aircraft initially. Boeing had also been invited by IAF but had withdrawn, saying it would bid only if it won the US tanker programme.

The USAF order is estimated at $ 35 billion, spread over several years. According to a Boeing statement, the contract calls for Boeing to design, develop, manufacture and deliver 18 initial combat-ready tankers by 2017.

Boeing has been the sole provider of midair refuelers to USAF for 60 years, and with the new programme, the company would continue to be the fuel lifeline of the US forces deployed worldwide for at least 50 more years. That means the company would continue to improve upon its own record in aerial refueling.

McNerney observed: “Our team is ready now to apply our 60 years of tanker experience to develop and build an airplane that will serve the nation for decades to come.

We’re honored to be given the opportunity to build the Air Force’s next tanker and provide a vital capability to the men and women of our armed forces,” he added

The Boeing proposal was created by an integrated “One Boeing” team from various sites across the company, including employees from the commercial airplanes; defense, space & security; and engineering, operations & technology organizations.

The KC-46A tanker includes state-of-the-art systems to meet the demanding mission requirements of the future, including a digital flight deck featuring Boeing 787 Dreamliner electronic displays and a flight control design philosophy that places aircrews in command rather than allowing computer software to limit combat maneuverability.

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