The US Air Force’s Life Cycle Management Center has issued a sources sought announcement for the bridge tanker program to acquire commercial derivative tanker aircraft to supplement its tanker aircraft fleet at the end of KC-46A production.
The sources sought release will aim to determine the number of qualified, interested companies capable of providing solutions for the planned, non-developmental tanker recapitalization program.
The new aircraft will bridge the gap to the next advanced air refueling tanker recapitalization phase, previously referred to as “KC-Z.” The existing KC-46A firm-fixed price contract is limited to 13 production lots, with the last planned procurement in 2027 and delivered in 2029.
A total of 179 KC-46As are expected to replace KC-135 and KC-10 tankers. The air force’s newest tanker is scheduled to reach an initial operational capability in 2024, after a seven-year delay. Earlier this year, the service started limited operations with the type despite lingering issues.
As a commercial derivative aircraft, the bridge tanker will be based on existing and emerging technologies with a full and open acquisition competition. Neither developmental stealth nor unmanned capability is planned.
The requirements for bridge tanker are currently being defined and the necessary capabilities will be incorporated into the final request for proposal once it is validated through the Department of Defense’s joint staffing process.
The Air Force plans to release the final bridge tanker RFP by the end of 2022.
The KC-135 will be 70 years old when the Air Force expects to receive its last KC-46 delivery in 2029, and replacing these vital aircraft continues to be critical to the air force mission to project rapid global mobility in today’s strategically competitive environment.