US Air Force Special Operations forces has disclosed plans to rapidly acquire a new fleet of more than 30 dual-role small tankers and airborne mission command aircraft.

The special operations community issued a request for information in mid-October, seeking a combat rescue tanker (CRT) to augment the USAF’s future combat search and rescue fleet and replace its ageing Lockheed Martin HC-130Ps and MC-130Es.

The request has attracted interest from Alenia/L-3 Communications joint venture Global Military Aircraft Systems (GMAS), which is offering the 
C-27J to meet the US Army’s $1.3 billion Future Cargo Aircraft (FCA) requirement with Lockheed as a major supplier. Other known CRT candidates include EADS Casa’s 
C-295, which is also contesting the FCA requirement. However, EADS says it plans to offer the platform to the USAF without FCA partner Raytheon as prime contractor.

Airbus Military’s A400M is another potential candidate for the special operations refuelling requirement, and Lockheed says it also plans to enter the bidding for CRT with the short-fuselage version of its KC-130J now in US Marine Corps service.

It is unclear, however, how Lockheed’s activity in the CRT competition will affect its proposed role as engine and avionics supplier to the GMAS team. Northrop Grumman and the Bell Boeing V-22 tiltrotor joint venture have also registered with the USAF as interested sources for the CRT fleet.

Air force special operations plans to hold an industry day in mid-December to provide potential bidders with more details of the requirement. Industry sources say the procurement is scheduled to begin in 2008, with an initial operational capability to be delivered by 2011.


Source: Flight International