Lockheed unveils new tanker design: LMXT – Breaking Defense Breaking Defense

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Lockheed Martin touted LMXT as “America’s Next Strategic Oil Tanker”. (Lockheed Martin)

WASHINGTON: Lockheed Martin officially threw its hat into the ring to supply the U.S. Air Force with a new tanker, setting up a fight between two of the United States’ largest defense contractors – Lockheed and Boeing – on a contract which could involve the purchase of 160 additional supply ships in the years to come.

Lockheed unveiled its LMXT tanker design on Friday, which should be familiar to refueling enthusiasts: the platform is largely built from Airbus’ multi-role refueling transport (MRTT) with some technical improvements and a range. extent.

The MRTT, which is built from an Airbus A330, is NATO’s air-to-air refueling platform, is funded by a consortium made up of Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Germany, Norway , Belgium and the Czech Republic; the six countries share the costs of the planned purchase of eight tankers through a NATO consortium.

Lockheed and Airbus announced an agreement in 2018 to collaborate on future refueling grounds, but the LMXT is a direct result of an information request launched by the Air Force earlier this year, seeking a capability. interim mothership to bridge the gap between the KC -46A and what has been dubbed the future KC-Z design. In this RFI, the service said it wanted to purchase 140 to 160 copies of the interim design in order to help remove some of the older KC-135 tankers. A final call for tenders is expected in 2022.

Basing the design on the MRTT has obvious advantages. The design of the A330 tanker is already in use by 13 countries around the world and has been certified for key US aircraft including the F-35A, F-22, F-16, A-10, B1-B, C-17 , E -3, E-7, F-15 and P-8A. (It is likely that re-certification work will need to be done by the USAF for the LMXT design.) Logistically, it would fit into the NATO bases that have already been prepared for the MRTT.

But while using the MRTT as a design is a great idea on paper, Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst with the Teal Group, warns that “Satan lives in the details.”

“MRTT is a very good plane, and I see why the Air Force might want it,” he said. “But I could also see how and why this could turn into a price shootout, just like last time around. Boeing has it all in place, while this plane is expected to have dedicated facilities built, certification costs, other one-time costs. For price sensitive competition, this could be damaging.

What could be different from the current design of the MRRT? A Lockheed spokeswoman pointed to a fact sheet highlighting “dramatically improved range and fuel unloading capability,” “JADC2 open system architecture systems,” and a “multi-domain operations node that connects LMXT to a larger battlespace, increasing situational awareness on board to provide communications and data link for assets of any force.

Aboulafia notes that these are all fine abilities, but that until a formal tender is issued by the Air Force spelling out the actual requirements, it is unclear how much of an argument they will be. of sale. If the service is just going to launch air dams as cheaply as possible, he said, the additional technical capabilities might not shake things up.

Scattered throughout Lockheed’s publication and website, the phrase “By Americans, for Americans” is repeated. For those who remember the infamous “tanker war” of the late 2000s, that message holds.

This competition saw Boeing embark on it with a team of Northrop Grumman and Airbus, via its then American subsidiary EADS. While the Airbus team initially won the 2008 contract, Boeing launched an all-out legal, lobbying and publicity blitz arguing that the plane would not be “American” enough.

The effort finally worked and in a new competition, Boeing took an aggressive stance on its pricing, which ultimately led to a victory in 2011 for its KC-46A Pegasus design. Since then, the program has become bogged down in technical glitches, which have exceeded the $ 5 billion overrun.

Lockheed’s message here – and the emphasis on the company being the main one – is clearly designed to counter that, Aboulafia said.

“There is so much economic nationalism going on here, that’s exactly how it became a price spike last time around,” he noted.

Expect more details on LMXT at the Air Force Association conference next week.


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