Tuesday, December 4, 2018

New tanker battle looming

In an opening salvo of a future aerial tanker battle, Europe's Airbus is teaming up with U.S.-based Lockeed Martin to develop tankers to meet the U.S. military's growing demand. Tuesday's announcement of the memorandum of agreement between the two aerospace giants comes eight years after Airbus lost an Air Force tanker battle to rival Boeing. In that battle, Airbus teamed with Northrop Grumman, then went it alone after Northrop dropped out. Airbus initially won the contest to build the tankers in Mobile, Ala., but following a Boeing protest the contract went to Boeing. Now Airbus will work with Lockheed and go after the next possible aircraft and refueling service orders. The U.S. Air Force, which wants to ultimately replace its entire fleet of over 400 tankers, is examining ways to meet growing demand for aerial refueling with possible fee-for-service arrangements, purchases of hundreds of additional aircraft, and the future development of a stealthy tanker. Senior executives from Airbus and Lockheed agreed to jointly explore all those opportunities. Airbus has had success selling its A330-based Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), which has been selected by 12 countries. The aircraft is already refueling or capable of refueling most major U.S. combat airplanes, including the stealthy F-35 fighter jet. Lockheed builds, among other things, the F-35 and the C-130 transport plane that can also be used as a tanker. Boeing is building 179 767-based tankers, called the KC-46A, for the U.S. Air Force under the contract awarded in 2011. (Sources: Reuters, PRNewswire, 12/04/18) Although Airbus lost the tanker competition, it built a plant in Mobile to assemble the popular A320 series of jetliners. Nearly 100 Mobile-built jetliners have been delivered. Mobile will also be getting a second assembly line to build A220 passenger jets.