Cargo may be the decider in tanker wars

 - November 27, 2006, 11:42 AM

Described as a “sunrise platform” by Marc Lindsley, Northrop Grumman’s director of business development for the Airbus A330-based KC-30 program, the aircraft is perceived to be a worthy successor to the KC-135, which will still be around for many years. He points to the success of the A330 in winning both the Australian and UK air force tanker competitions in which a transport capability was an important requirement.

“We have a really good tanker,” he declared to Aviation International News, noting that in its tanker/transport guise it can carry 25 percent more fuel than the KC-135 but when required to function in its transport role, will carry 280 passengers and six pallets. With space for 26 pallets above deck and six below, the KC-30 can carry twice as many as a Boeing C-17, which is designed to carry bulkier hardware of course.

The retirement of the Lockheed C-141 fleet has left a gap in the U.S. Air Force inventory and placed an added burden on its C-17s intended to function both as a tactical as well as strategic transport. Doubtless the transport capability of the A330 was a factor in its selection for the UK Royal Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force, as they both need to rationalize and update their transport capability.

Unfazed by those who suggest that a foreign aircraft could not win the KC-135 replacement competition, Lindsley noted that the A330 has a 52 percent American content and would bring significant employment benefits to Alabama, where assembly of the KC-30 (or KCX as it is referred to in official circles) would take place. “With a site for assembly and equipment installation chosen in Mobile, 1,000 workers would be based there, with some 20,000 more involved as suppliers to the program,” added Jim McIngvale, director of Northrop Grumman’s Alabama State and Local Affairs commented.

A draft request for proposals for a new tanker/transport is expected to be issued in September, to be followed by a final request for proposal next January and a contract award at the end of the 2007 fiscal year. The KC-30 appears to be out in front by ticking all the boxes.