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Civil or unmanned tanker aircraft for the USAF

The US Air Force must fill a gap of at least three years

USAF, the US Air Force, intends to launch a Request for Proposal (RFP) for an in-flight refuelling service for its planes. The operational requirement, in order of priority, would be to refuel the F-15, F-16, F-18, Boeing B-1 and Boeing B-52 aircraft.

It is not the first time -AVIONEWS recalls- that USAF is interested in in-flight refuelling capabilities provided by civil assets. Since the 1980s, many studies have been conducted which have shown the efficiency of such a solution.

In 2018 Lockheed-Martin, in collaboration with Airbus, had presented an offer based on the A-330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), while in 2019 Omega Aerial Refuelling Services purchased two DC-10 aircraft equipped with a boom for refuelling with the aim of presenting an offer to the USAF. Omega Air is a private carrier specializing in providing in-flight refuelling services for military aircraft whose headquarters are located in Alexandria, Virginia, and the operational base on Washington-Dulles airport. The company already owned other refuellers usually used by the US Navy during exercises, but the refuelling system used by the USN is different from that used by USAF.

From the news on the need USAF leaks -AVIONEWS reports- that the Air Force plans to use civilian refuelling services in flight mainly during training activities in the United States. A small percentage of use is expected to support test activities and operational experimentation, for the transfer of US aircraft sold to foreign countries and for the transfer of USAF aircraft to overseas bases. The main purpose of the operation is to free up a large part of the flight time of military suppliers in service including the KC-135 Stratotanker and the KC-46A that will continue to support the aircraft during possible conflicts.

The offer request must include IOC (Initial Operational Capability) and all the authorizations necessary to operate the aircraft in the required configurations. In addition, civilian crews will need to be trained to start the trial period which the Air Force Material Command (the command responsible for the program) estimates will last one year from the signing of the contract.

The estimated commitment for civilian tankers is approximately 3000 flight hours per year for the first two years. USAF will also request that, within three years from the start of the contract, civilian refuellers reach Full Operational Capability (FOC) and be able to develop 5000 flight hours per year and the ability to supply an extensive number of aircraft including F-22, F-35, A-10 and C-130.

Simultaneously, the USAF will work to increase the capabilities of the military tanker fleet, and is also evaluating versions of the unmanned refuelling aircraft to extend the non-stop range of its bombers and fighters. A sort of self-service sky service station to which tactical aircraft can supply. In particular, it appears that the US Air Force has developed a specific operational requirement aimed at expanding the possibility of vast air operations over the oceans to project its air potential to remote geographic areas according to the Global Reach doctrine.

AVIONEWS recalls that the USAF strategic doctrine foresees very long-range missions, and for decades the US Air Forces have been training in this type of activity by participating, for example, in training operations in Africa or the Middle East with non-stop round-trip flights from the USA. In real operations during the wars in the Gulf - AVIONEWS recalls- the B-52 operated from the USA with a stopover on the island of Guam.

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AVIONEWS - World Aeronautical Press Agency