In a move that has largely surprised the market, Airbus has signed an MoU with Lockheed Martin to market the Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) to potential US defence customers.
The A330-based KC-30 then offered by Airbus and Northrop Grumman was selected in February 2008 to fulfil the USAF’s KC-X requirement for 179 tankers to replace ageing KC-130E/R tankers, the youngest of which entered service in 1962. But this award was overturned on appeal by the US Government Audit Office (GAO), and KC-X was subsequently awarded 2011 to Boeing with its 767-2F-based KC-46.
More than a decade since the original award was overturned, more than 30 A330 MRTTs/KC-30s are in service with 12 operators around the world, while the KC-46 program has been plagued with development delays and the aircraft is yet to enter USAF service.
“Reliable and modernised aerial refuelling is an essential capability for our customers to maintain their global reach and strategic advantage,” Lockheed Martin Chairman, President and CEO Marillyn Hewson said in a statement.
“By combining the innovation and expertise of Airbus and Lockheed Martin, we will be well positioned to provide the United States Air Force and allies around the world with the advanced refuelling solutions needed to meet 21st century security challenges.”
Airbus CEO Tom Enders added, “The US Air Force deserves the best aerial-refuelling technology and performance available under the sun and this great industry team, Lockheed Martin and Airbus, will offer exactly that.”
It is unclear whether the Airbus and Lockheed Martin tie-up is being positioned for the follow-on KC-Y requirement which will replace additional KC-35s and possibly the larger KC-10 as well, or whether the partnership sees a smaller refuelling services market to augment the USAF’s fleet.
“The A330 MRTT has been selected by a dozen nations around the world. It is extensively proven in live operations and has been repeatedly praised by major air forces,” Airbus Defence and Space Head of Military Aircraft Fernando Alonso said.
“We are convinced that the combination of Airbus’ tanker expertise with Lockheed Martin’s extensive US presence, has the potential to provide highly effective solutions for current and future US military aerial-refuelling requirements.”