Northrop Grumman says the Airbus A330-200F can be assembled in line as a tanker, negating a potential Boeing advantage in the $40 billion KC-X competition.
Most details of the KC-30's manufacturing plan remain secret. Previously, Northrop has confirmed only that final assembly will shift to the proposed new plant in Mobile, Alabama, starting with the fourth aircraft. The completed aircraft will then move next door to Northrop's Mobile facility to be missionised.
Northrop's Mark Lindsley, business development director for KC-30, adds that no "negative work" will be performed during the missionisation process. This means the aircraft's refuelling systems and military equipment can be installed without needing to tear out sections of the aircraft after it was assembled.
The disclosure changes the public complexion of the competition between Boeing and Northrop to offer the best production strategy.
Boeing has already touted its in-line production method for the KC-767, which is competing for the USAF's 179-aircraft order. Boeing's plan has the 767 Long Range Freighter (LRF) assembled in Everett, Washington, as a civil aircraft, but plumbed for tanker systems.
The completed 767-200LRF is then shipped to Wichita, Kansas, for the militarisation process.
In-line production of a military derivative of a civil aircraft is a method Boeing pioneered with the P-8A Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft and the 737-800.
Northrop has now appropriated the same approach for the KC-30. The completed aircraft will need to have fuel pumps installed to enable the refuelling systems, but no panels or structures must be removed to complete the transition to the tanker aircraft.