After over a decade of searching, the U.S.
Air Force has finally decided on its next aerial tanker. The winner was European firm Airbus, which
offered the KC-30, based on the Airbus 330-300, which normally sells for $160
million each. The KC-30 carries 20 percent more fuel than the other candidate,
the KC-767, plus more cargo pallets (26 versus 19) and passengers. These were
apparently decisive factors in the final decision.
The KC-767 is based on the Boeing
767-200 airliner, which sells for about $120 million. The 767 has been in
service since 1982, and over 800 have been manufactured so far. Boeing
developed the KC-767, at a cost of nearly a billion dollars, on its own. Boeing
also developed the original KC-135 tanker in the 1950s, and has since built
over 2,000 of these. But the KC-767 sales effort was marred by the earlier use
of bribes and other misbehavior.
Meanwhile, the first KC-767s are being delivered to Italy and Japan, and
is being offered to other nations as
The two engine KC-30 will officially be
known as the KC-45A, and will replace the
four engine KC-135. The older aircraft carries 90 tons of fuel and can
transfer up to 68 tons. Typically, aerial tankers have to service B-52s, which
carry over 140 tons of jet fuel, and fighters like the F-15 (over five tons). A
two engine KC-767 carries about as much fuel as the KC-135, while the KC-30 carried
more. The KC-135 has long made itself useful carrying cargo and passengers, as
well as fuel, and both the KC-767 and KC-30 have more capacity for this, with
the KC-30 having a decisive edge.
The KC-767 was developed partly because
it is about the same size as the KC-135 (wingspan is 156 feet, ten more than
the KC-135). Thus the 767 could use the same basing and repair facilities as
the 135. That was not a critical factor. Moreover, Airbus has been developing
the KC-30 for several years, and the first one will
enter service with Australia this year.
The contract to build 179 KC-45As is
worth about $35 billion (about $196 million per aircraft). More than half the
work will be done in Europe. The first KC-45s will enter service in five years,
rolling out of an assembly plant in the United States. This will give Airbus
production facilities in the United States.