We can look forward to the big two tanker manufacturers going toe-to-toe at the Farnborough air show in just over a fortnight’s time, with Airbus and Boeing having submitted responses to a request for proposals for South Korea’s in-flight refuelling requirement.
Seoul doesn’t have any tankers, but wants the capability to provide support for its current combat assets, which include the F-15K and F-16C/D. Four tanker/transports are required, and a decision is expected to be reached before the end of 2014.
Airbus has had a great run with its A330 MRTT, with the development now in use with Australia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the UK and also selected by France, India and Qatar. It even won the US Air Force’s KC-X tanker contest, before a successful appeal was followed by Boeing’s victory with the 767-based KC-46.
We can expect the same old arguments to come into play between the rivals – indeed, a Boeing media release refers to the base access benefits which would be enjoyed by its smaller aircraft.
Will that line, and the traditional links between the South Korean and US militaries in equipment terms succeed in swaying Seoul into ending Airbus’s recent dominance in tanker competitions?
Or is the KC-46 just not ready enough yet to prove its credentials, with a first development example yet to even fly?
We should note here that Israel Aerospace Industries is also pitching refurbished 767s for the South Korean requirement. It would have to be ranked as a long-shot to land the deal, but its adaptation has already scored successes in Colombia and Brazil.