The US Air Force has officially launched a new bid to select a future aerial refueling aircraft starting in 2029. At that time, deliveries of the KC-46A Pegasus are expected to be completed, according to the contract signed with Boeing.
The airframer is expected to produce 179 KC-46 for the USAF in a fixed-price deal, and one that has caused trouble for both. With several issues, the new tanker plane has been late and has not met the requirements established by the force.
Currently, the USAF has received 44 KC-46s from an official order for 94 planes, according to Boeing. The most recent lot was signed in January including 15 units with a total value of $2.1 billion.
Due to the contractual limitation, the Air Force will have to launch a new competition, which will be open to commercial aircraft manufacturers in variants adapted for aerial refueling using a boom.
As there are currently no new competitors, it is believed that Boeing can return to offer the KC-46 while Airbus can participate with the A330 MRTT, which came to win one of the KC-X competitions, but was later disqualified.
It remains to be seen whether it will not be more appropriate for the two planemakers to use more modern platforms such as the 787 and A350, despite the higher development cost.
Under the USAF requirement, up to 160 aircraft can be ordered to be delivered at an annual rate of 15 units.
The KC-Y program is considered a transitional aircraft until the Advanced Air Refueling Tanker project, know as KC-Z, advances. The US Air Force is considering ordering an unmanned aircraft that can use stealth to enhance its survival in a conflicting environment.
In this regard, the US Navy is more advanced, thanks to Boeing’s MQ-25 drone, which performs in-flight refueling tests to eventually be part of aircraft carrier squadrons.