Lockheed Martin has revealed a proposed upgrade to the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) for the USAF’s KC-Y bridge tanker program.
Dubbed LMXT, the upgrade will add an open-architecture digital backbone for the easy integration of future upgrades including an enhanced communications system for joint all-domain command and control (JADC2) to the proven A330 MRTT. Other media reports have indicted the LMXT may also offer a greater fuel and offload capacity, bringing it close to the KC-10A Extender it is intended to replace.
To date, more than 60 MRTTs have been ordered by eight operators, including Australia (as the KC-30A), the UK, France, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, and a joint NATO force on behalf of the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, and Germany, and some 50 aircraft have been delivered.
Lockheed Martin will act as prime contractor for the LMXT and, while not confirmed, the aircraft will likely be built at Airbus’s facility at Mobile in the US state of Alabama if it is selected for KC-Y.
“Lockheed Martin has a long and successful track record of producing aircraft for the USAF, and we understand the critical role tankers play in ensuring America’s total mission success,” executive vice president, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, Greg Ulmer said in a company release. “The LMXT combines proven performance and operator-specific capabilities to meet the Air Force’s refueling requirements in support of America’s national defense strategy.”
KC-Y is a follow-on to the previous KC-X for which the Boeing KC-46A – a development of the 767-2C freighter – was selected. The KC-46A is a hybrid of the 767-200 airframe integrated with -300 series wings and P&W PW4000 engines, a modern 787-like cockpit, updated cargo handling systems, an advanced communications suite, and a new digital air refuelling boom with a remote vision system (RVS).
The USAF has ordered 179 KC-46As under a US$5bn fixed price contract, but the development program has been mired with delays with the RVS, cargo handling, fuel systems, and production issues, resulting in delays to deliveries and severe cost overruns incurred by Boeing.
A request for information (RFI) for the KC-Y Bridge Tanker requirement was released in June 2021, and specified the acquisition of 140-160 preferably “commercially-derived” and “non-developmental” aircraft from 2025, with an in-service date of 2028. Few other details on the KC-Y’s requirements have been released, only that it will be a ‘bridge’ between the initial KC-X acquisition and the notional KC-Z future tanker.
These initial requirements and timings all but ensure the only real contenders for KC-Y would be additional Boeing KC-46As, or the Airbus A330 MRTT.