For more than a decade, the US Air Force planned to acquire a successor to the KC-46 tanker, known as the KC-Y, before embarking on a next-generation clean tanker program called the KC-Z. However, service chiefs, most notably Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, have hinted that the Air Force may drop the KC-Y altogether and simply continue to purchase more KC-46s before moving on to the KC-Z program.
Larry Gallogli, the head of Lockheed LMXT, in turn, suggested a third option that the Air Force could potentially choose: skip testing and testing of the KC-Y and buy more KC-46s, but then use the LMXT rather than start completely from scratch to design the KC -Z.
In its briefings with reporters, Lockheed described the LMXT as a complement to Boeing’s KC-46. The LMXT is a planned American derivative of the Airbus A330 multi-role transport tanker that initially opposed the KC-46 during the KC-X competition, which ended in favor of Boeing in 2011 after numerous tests.
To create the LMXT, the base A330 jetliner must undergo final assembly in Mobile, Alabama, and then fly to Marietta, Georgia, where it will be modified into a paramilitary tanker. Due to its larger size, the A330 LMXT will be able to offload 30,000 liters more fuel and have a greater combat radius than the KC-46, a feature that will serve the aircraft well in the Indo-Pacific region, Gallogli said.
Lockheed announced the implementation of the project to include new technologies designed to support joint military operations. From now until 2027, Lockheed plans to add connectivity to the SpaceX Starlink and Protected Tactical Waveform satellite constellation, Gallogli said, gradually introducing data fusion, machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities.
With these upgrades, LMXT will be able to act as an airborne command center capable of tasking drones and manned aircraft and sending threat and target information.
Paul Waugh, executive director of the US Air Force’s Operational and Training Aircraft Program, told reporters earlier that the Air Force plans to begin reviewing alternatives to the KC-Z in 2024, with preliminary work starting next year, further fueling rumors that the service might skip the KC-Y competition and speed up the timeline for the KC-Z project.