The US Air Force’s request for proposals (RFP) for tankers to replace ageing KC-135s, issued in September, has prompted Boeing to unveil its proposed KC-777 tanker as a running mate to the KC-767.

Boeing and competitor EADS, teamed with Northrop Grumman to offer the KC-30 tanker-transport derivative of the Airbus A330, must submit initial responses by mid-October. The final RFP is expected around mid-December, with selection due early next year.

The KC-X contest, potentially worth $20-25 billion, is expected to cover the replacement of the oldest tankers in three main tranches of around 100 aircraft, with an initial contract likely to cover procurement of 15-20 aircraft a year for an annual outlay of around $2.5 billion. The KC-X schedule calls for test aircraft in 2009 with initial production aircraft due in 2011-12. Although details of the RFP remain under wraps, Boeing indicates that its long-term requirement potentially covers both medium (KC-135) and large (KC-10) tanker replacement. “Over time the USAF will end up with a mixed fleet, and we want to provide them with Boeing aircraft,” says Boeing tanker programmes vice-president Mark McGraw.

However, given the timeline it is believed the inclusion of the KC-777 may be unlikely in the first tender. The KC-777 is based on the 777 Freighter, which was launched in May 2005, and is due for first deliveries in late 2008. Full development of the KC-variant, presuming a launch in 2007, would not allow initial deliveries for test until around mid-2010 given previous development timescales.

Source: Flight International