Public release of the US Air Force’s aerial refuelling analysis of alternatives (AoA) has added fuel to the debate about whether the service should acquire medium or large tankers. Boeing is proposing the KC-767 medium tanker and Northrop Grumman/EADS North America the slightly bigger Airbus A330-based KC-30, but the AoA also identifies the larger Airbus A340 and Boeing 777 as candidates.

USAF officials testifying to Congress have differed on which way to go, with Lt Gen Christopher Kelly, vice- commander of Air Mobility Command, favouring a mix of medium and large tankers for flexibility. Military deputy for air force acquisition Lt Gen Donald Hoffman, meanwhile, says the first 100 aircraft should “all look the same” and be medium tankers on cost grounds.

Concluding that commercial-derivative tankers in the 135-455t gross-weight range are the most cost-effective tanker replacement alternative, the Rand-conducted AoA says: “A mixed fleet consisting of more than one of these alternative candidates also has comparable cost-effectiveness, so there is no reason…to exclude an Airbus-Boeing mixed buy.”

A request for information is expected to be released shortly, with a request for proposals set for September.

Source: Flight International