The KC-X program, the first of three planned programs intended to recapitalize the Air Force’s air refueling fleet, is expected to acquire 179 new, commercial off- the-shelf airliners modified to accomplish air refueling missions. Both Boeing and a consortium consisting of Northrop Grumman and European Aerospace Defense Company (EADS) — the parent company of Airbus — are in competition for KC-X. Boeing offered a variant of the 767-200 while Northrop Grumman/EADS submitted a version of the Airbus 330-200.
Air Force in-flight aerial refueling aircraft, often referred to as “tankers,” provide both persistence and range to Department of Defense (DOD) fighters, bombers, airlift and surveillance aircraft. As such, the Air Force’s tanker fleet greatly multiplies the effectiveness of DOD air power across the continuum of military operations. Today, the KC-135, which makes up the preponderance of the Air Force’s tanker force, is among the Air Force’s oldest aircraft. As a result, potential issues for Congress include:
* How long will the KC-135 remain viable as a military air refueler?
* What is the lowest cost alternative for KC-135 recapitalization?
* How many new tankers does the Air Force require?
* What capabilities should KC-X have?
* How will KC-X fit with future tanker requirements?
* Was the competition fair?
* Should a competitive dual-sourcing acquisition model be pursued?
* Where does the Air Force plan to base KC-X aircraft?
* What other options that can be pursued along with KC-X to expedite KC-135 recapitalization and should they be pursued?