Lockheed Martin Unveils KC-Y Tanker Contender

 - September 17, 2021, 1:05 PM
The Lockheed Martin-led LMXT represents another opportunity to sell the Airbus A330 MRTT to the U.S. Air Force following the ousting of the initially successful, Northrop Grumman-led KC-45A from the KC-X order that resulted in the procurement of the Boeing KC-46A. (Image: Lockheed Martin)

Lockheed Martin has issued the first details of its LMXT tanker, which is aimed at the U.S. Air Force’s KC-Y requirement. As expected, the aircraft is based on the Airbus A330 MRTT (multirole tanker/transport), but it will be tailored to meet U.S.-specific requirements. To offset any perceptions created by the aircraft’s European roots, Lockheed Martin claims that, if successful, the LMXT will be “built in America by Americans for Americans.”

"Lockheed Martin has a long and successful track record of producing aircraft for the U.S. Air Force, and we understand the critical role tankers play in ensuring America's total mission success," said Greg Ulmer, executive vice president, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. "The LMXT combines proven performance and operator-specific capabilities to meet the Air Force's refueling requirements in support of America's National Defense Strategy."

Lockheed Martin’s bid results from a December 2018 strategic teaming with Airbus to exploit opportunities in the U.S. inflight refueling market. The A330 MRTT has already been selected by 13 nations and has amassed over 250,000 flight hours, including combat operations. It is already certified for refueling the F-35A, F-22, F-16, A-10, B-1B, C-17, E-3, E-7, F-15, and P-8A. The LMXT will have a fuel offload capacity of 271,700 pounds and an endurance approaching 20 hours.

Other highlighted advantages include a proven fly-by-wire boom system and combat-proven camera vision system. The A330 MRTT is also the world’s first tanker capable of automatic air-to-air refueling (A3R). The LMXT will have an open system architecture compatible with Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) systems, and the ability to function as a multi-domain node as part of a wider battlespace network. The latter not only enhances onboard situational awareness but also provides resilient communications across the wider force.

KC-Y is the second phase of the U.S. Air Force’s tanker roadmap. The first phase, KC-X, resulted in the acquisition of 179 Boeing KC-46A Pegasus tankers. Initially, a variant of the A330 MRTT—the Northrop Grumman-led KC-45A—was selected for KC-X, but Boeing successfully overturned the decision after intense lobbying. Although it has yet to confirm pending the issuance of more specific requirements, Boeing is likely to offer a KC-46 version for KC-Y.

The KC-Y “Bridge Tanker” follow-up phase continues the replacement of the aging KC-135 fleet as well as the KC-10A Extenders, requiring a large aircraft with a significant strategic tanker/transport capability. On June 16 the Bridge Tanker Program Office issued a Sources Sought Notice for the KC-Y, with between 140 and 160 commercially derived tankers to be delivered at the rate of 12 to 15 per year, beginning in 2029. At that time, the final Pegasus should have been received. A requirements specification has yet to be issued.

As its name suggests, the Bridge Tanker covers the Air Force’s needs until the final phase of the tanker roadmap can be fielded. The KC-Z is to be a more advanced design employing stealthy features. In the past, Lockheed Martin issued a graphic depicting a notional future tanker that employed a blended wing configuration.