US-based L3Harris Technologies and Brazil’s Embraer have joined forces to develop an “Agile Tanker” based on Embraer’s KC-390 Millennium tactical tanker aircraft and offer it on the US market.
The companies are touting the tanker as a tactical aerial refueling option “to address the US Air Force’s operational imperatives and joint force refueling requirements especially for contested logistics environments.”
Under an agreement signed on September 19, the two sides will expand the capabilities of the KC-390, including the addition of advanced boom operations and mission systems to support agile basing and sustainment for operations in contested areas, and resilient communications supporting JADC2 requirements.
“US Air Force strategic planners have stated agile combat employment will require refueling platforms optimized to support a disaggregated approach to air dominance in contested logistics environments,” said Christopher E. Kubasik, Chair and CEO, L3Harris. “Collaborating with Embraer to develop and integrate new capabilities to the multi-mission KC-390 provides a cost-effective, fast-to-field solution that embodies our trusted disruptor approach.”
Aircraft enhancements will complement the tanker’s existing capabilities, which already include the ability to refuel aircraft with a variable speed drogue, receive fuel, and to take off and land from short and improvised runways, allowing for greater mission area coverage.
“We continue seeking meaningful and strategic partnerships that generate new developments and expand the KC-390 Millennium’s market reach,” said Francisco Gomes Neto, president and CEO of Embraer. “Our aircraft is capturing the attention of Air Forces around the world, and we’re thrilled by this opportunity to combine Embraer’s state-of-the-art platform and systems with L3Harris’ mission-driven solutions to deliver on the US Air Force’s operational imperatives.”
Embraer is pitching the KC-390 in the US after securing export successes for the airframe in Hungary and Portugal, both of whom have several airframes on order. The Netherlands picked the C-390 (without air-to-air refueling capability) in June this year. Embraer recently also demonstrated the capabilities of the aircraft to the Czech Air Force.
To support the Buy American Act requirements, L3Harris and Embraer are studying the tanker program production with final assembly in the US, followed by aircraft modernization and missionization at the L3Harris’ Waco, Texas, aircraft modification center.