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Lockheed, Airbus pick GE engines for US Air Force’s XC-Y bridge tanker bid

Photo: Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin and Airbus have announced the choice of GE Aerospace’s CF6-80E1 engines for their LMXT strategic tanker proposal as part of the US Air Force’s KC-135 recapitalization plan.

The companies said they chose GE’s CF6 engine due to its proven durability, reliability and performance. Designed specifically for the A330, and the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) model which serves as the basis for the LMXT proposal for the air force’s bridge tanker KC-Y program, the CF6-80E1 variant offers technological advancements over previous CF6 engines, including nearly 70,000 pounds of thrust and 15 percent greater fuel efficiency.

The KC-Y program envisions a new tanker that will bridge the gap between the KC-46A and the next advanced air refueling tanker recapitalization phase, previously referred to as “KC-Z.”

The air force assessed it needs the KC-Y program as 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.

“America’s tanker fleet will play a critical role in meeting future mission requirements. This means the LMXT must use capable and proven technologies, such as the MRTT strategic tanker and GE Aerospace’s CF6 engine,” said Greg Ulmer, executive vice president, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics.

The CF6 engine first entered service in 1971, with a history of service on major commercial and military platforms such as the Lockheed Martin C-5M Super Galaxy. GE has delivered more than 8,500 CF6 engines to date, powering 10 commercial and military aircraft with 25 variants.

“I join thousands of Airbus employees across the U.S. in welcoming GE to the great American team that will build the LMXT for our Air Force,” said C. Jeffrey Knittel, chairman and CEO, Airbus Americas. “The A330 MRTT has been refueling US aircraft in combat since 2015, and I look forward to seeing a GE-powered LMXT step into that role, providing a level of capability that US forces have clearly shown they need.”

The manufacturer selection follows previous announcements that Lockheed Martin and Airbus will expand operations in Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas to support future LMXT manufacturing, assembly and configuration. The LMXT will first be produced as an A330 airliner at Airbus’ US Manufacturing Facility in Mobile, Alabama, before being configured for strategic tanking at the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics facility in Marietta, Georgia. Airbus will produce the LMXT’s aerial refueling boom system in western Arkansas.

LMXT features a fully certified automatic air-to-air refueling (A3R) boom, Enhanced Vision System and integrated JADC2 suite. As the strategic tanker of choice for 14 nations around the world, the MRTT currently refuels fighter, transport and maritime patrol aircraft for the US and allied partners.