KC-X Last Tanker for Two Decades

Defense analyst and consultant Rebecca Grant said today that she believes there will not be any follow-on contracts for the KC-Y or KC-Z tankers, leaving the KC-X as the final plum for Boeing and EADS to pluck for at least 20 years. Those successors would triple the size of the 179 KC-X tanker buy should they occur. The next tanker buy would then be the replacement for the KC-10, in roughly 20 years.

Defense analyst and consultant Rebecca Grant said today that she believes there will not be any follow-on contracts for the KC-Y or KC-Z tankers, leaving the KC-X as the final plum for Boeing and EADS to pluck for at least 20 years. Those successors would triple the size of the 179 KC-X tanker buy should they occur.

The next tanker buy would then be the replacement for the KC-10s, in roughly 20 years.

Grant also seemed to lean toward the EADS offering, which supposedly offers a higher fuel  as she argued at a press briefing that fuel offload and loiter times are crucial factors to be considered in the competition.  During this year’s Air Force Association conference EADS NA board chairman Ralph Crosby offered a very similar argument for their tanker’s superiority, saying their plane boasts substantially lower costs per gallon of fuel delivered because its planes can offload fuel at a higher rate and can carry more fuel than Boeing’s planes can.

Key to Grant’s argument is the Pacific theater. “Any air campaign will demand extremely long reach and heavy use of tankers. The distance from Guam to Taipei, for example, is 1,474 NM,” she wrote in her white paper, “Nine Secrets of the Tanker War.” In addition to distance, she said long range strike assets will be extremely thirty. A B-2 would require four refuelings of 100,000 pounds of fuel each, she writes. She says the “larger KC-Xs can handle the {Pacific bombing] scenario with four aircraft, However, the smaller notional KC-X would require a minimum of five and likely more tankers to meet both the offload and timing requirements for the mission.”

Grant appeared with retired Lt. Gen. Norm Seip, former 12th Air Force commander. I asked them who they would pick to win the competition. Grant hedged her bet, saying only that “additional fuel offload is of great value in the scenarios that concern me, especially the Pacific scenario.” Seip stayed much further away, saying he wouldn’t pick a winner “even if you put a gun to my head today.”

Seip’s comment may have been reflective of something that Grant said in her white paper: “The business rivalry between Boeing and Airbus is one of the sharpest, most unforgiving match-ups in the history of capitalism.”

Both Grant and Seip told me they do not represent either Boeing or EADS.