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Roadmap outlines recapitalization of tanker fleet

WASHINGTON - The Air Force released a plan today outlining the retirement of the remaining 133 E-model KC-135 Stratotankers and the proposed integration of the 100 KC-767A tankers it is leasing from Boeing.

Through the "tanker roadmap," the Air Force is laying out the initial stages of tanker recapitalization which run through 2017, according to Col. Scott E. Wuesthoff, chief of the Air Force global mobility division at the Pentagon. This recapitalization is critical because the average age of the service's KC-135 E-model tanker is more than 43 years old and getting older every day, Wuesthoff said.

The KC-767s have greater range, carry a larger payload and more passengers, can be aerially refueled itself and can refuel any type of receiver aircraft with its boom or drogue.

"It is also capable of taking off at maximum gross weight from approximately 1,000 more runways around the world than the KC-135, allowing the warfighter numerous options and increased flexibility," he said.

"These Eisenhower-era aircraft are the oldest combat weapons system in the inventory and have been experiencing ever increasing maintenance costs and serious corrosion problems, which equate to decreasing availability and less bang-for-the-buck," he explained.

"As the Air Force retires the 133 E-model KC-135s and brings on board the 100 KC-767s, the Air Force gains both capability and availability."

The tanker roadmap addresses the realignments in the tanker force structure associated with the introduction of the KC-767As and the retirement of the KC-135Es. As part of the overall roadmap, the following ARC units will convert from E-models to R-models: Salt Lake City International Airport, Utah; Bangor IAP, Maine; Pittsburgh IAP, Penn.; Forbes Field; McGhee-Tyson ANGB, Tenn., McGuire AFB, N.J.; Scott AFB, Ill.; Sioux City ANG, Iowa; Beale AFB, Calif.; and Selfridge ANGB, Mich.

"As we retire the E-models from the Air Reserve Component, we'll standardize the number of primary aircraft assigned to a squadron," Wuesthoff said. "For the ARC, that will be eight R-model KC-135s and for the active duty that number will be 16."

Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., will be the first active-duty base to receive KC-767s when it begins the transition from KC-135 R-models to the new tanker; deliveries begin in fiscal 2006. Upon completion of the tanker force structure movements in 2010, the roadmap indicates Fairchild will have 32 767s. The transition will increase the number of personnel assigned per crew position on each aircraft from 1.36 to 1.75. A tanker crew complement consists of the aircraft commander (pilot), co-pilot, and boom operator. To prepare Fairchild for the new KC-767, the Air Force plans to pump up to $200 million of military construction into the base. The eight tanker R-model Air National Guard squadron at Fairchild will be unaffected by the active duty changes.

McConnell AFB, Kan., currently has 48 R-model tankers in active-duty service and nine R-models in the Air National Guard. There are10 E-models at Forbes Field. The active force at McConnell will lose 18 aircraft in 2004-2005 before they begin adding to the fleet to peak at 64 active duty tankers. In addition, McConnell is slated to retain eight of the nine R-model ANG aircraft, giving them a total of 72 tankers overall, justifying their "super-wing" designation. The ANG at Forbes Field will drop two of their E-models in 2004 and switch to all R-models by 2006, giving them an end state of eight R-models.

Grand Forks AFB, N.D., is slated to begin its transition from 48 R-models in 2005 and eventually gain 32 767s by 2009. This move also adds up to $176 million in military construction.

MacDill AFB, Fla. is slated to give up its 12 R-model tankers by 2010 and receive 32 767s by 2011. This move will raise its end-state personnel, but final figures are yet to be determined. Military construction as a result of the transition may reach up to $200 million.

Finally, Robins AFB, Ga., will be the last base to deplete its tanker inventory; the base will not receive new tankers, but this action will make way for future missions.

"This is really only the first step in the recapitalization of the fleet," Wuesthoff said.

A new tanker requirements study and associated analysis of alternatives to determine the best options to recapitalize the remaining tankers are currently in the planning stages because the strategic environment has changed as a result of 9/11, post 9/11 operations and our overall military strategy, he explained. All viable options will be considered during this analysis. "Ensuring we have a robust air refueling force enables us to protect our homeland, conduct combat operations worldwide and provide humanitarian relief around the world," he said. "We're an aerospace nation, and our tankers allow us to do things no other nation in the world can do. They're an essential part of the overall global mobility equation."

"The Tanker Modernization Roadmap is a tremendous first step in recapitalizing America's vital aerial refueling capabilities," said Gen. John W. Handy, commander of U.S. Transportation Command and Air Mobility Command. "Retiring the oldest and least capable models of the KC-135E will free up badly needed resources to better support and fly the remaining portions of our fleet.

"The proposed lease of 100 KC-767s will dramatically increase the capability and availability of our tanker fleet. Leasing also offers us the opportunity to take delivery of the tankers far faster than an outright purchase of the same aircraft. The Tanker Roadmap is a well-conceived and balanced solution to maximizing essential refueling support to America's warfighters."

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