My colleague (and competitor) Amy Butler today quotes Northrop Grumman executive Paul Meyer, vice president of Northrop Grumman Air Mobility Systems, about the urgency of the KC-135 replacement. He says:
“The Air Force has made it abundantly clear they need to modernize the aging KC-135 fleet as quickly as possible.”
I’ve always accepted the air force’s KC-135 replacement urgency at face value. After all, some of these tankers date back to the early 1960s. How much life could they possibly have left?
But John Young, the Pentagon’s undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, surprised me in his testimony last month. Here’s what he said:
“Thetruth is, KC-135s currently have, on average, 17,000 hours and theyhave a structural life of 36,000 to 39,000 hours. Those airplanes haveplenty of life. We could continue with those airplanes structurally.Those airplanes were designed in a time where we developed more robuststructures. Today’s airplanes have less robust structures. I think itremains to be seen whether [newer] planes can serve for 25, 40 or 50years.“